Supreme Court rules on important cohabitee case17 Jun 2011
On 9th November 2011 the Supreme Court handed down judgment in the important case of Kernott v Jones, in relation to the interests of non married couples in their former family home.
The law in relation to former cohabitees is based on land law and trust law principles and there was no precedent for the Court to consider any concept as to what may be fair nor was there any precedent for the Court to impute the parties’ intention as to the ownership of the property.
The Supreme Court has in Kernott v Jones provided some welcome guidance in relation to the interests of people in jointly owned property when they are not married. The Court has confirmed that the initial assumption that the property is owned jointly and equally (as set out in the earlier case of Stack v Dowden) remains but that this presumption can be rebutted. The Court determined that if it can be inferred from the parties actions and conduct (either at the time of purchase or later) that their intention was not equal ownership or changed from equal ownership then the inference should be made.
The Court also determined that if it was clear that the intention was not for there to be equal ownership or that it had changed from equal ownership but that it was not possible to infer what the intention was then the Court could impute (ie decide for itself) what the intentions should be based on what it considers to be fair.
In summary, where there are disputes about the interests in jointly owned properties between non married owners, Kernott v Jones provides some clarification as to how these interests are to be determined and also allows, in certain circumstance, a degree of fairness to be considered in what had previously been viewed by many practitioners to be a rather unfair property regime.
A more detailed analysis of the Supreme Court’s decision will be published by Osbornes’ Solicitors family team shortly.
Andrew Watson and Lisa Pepper of Osbornes family department are resolution accredited specialists in cohabitation matters.
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