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Q: When is Joint Ownership not equal entitlement?

A: When the Courts say it is not.

The recent Supreme Court ruling in the case of Jones v. Kernott shows that fairness and common sense can be upheld in co-habitation cases, regardless of the archaic law governing this area. From my experience, this has always been possible, but never so clearly upheld by the Courts as in this case.

Ms Jones and Mr Kernott were not married and bought a house together, each contributing equally financially to the purchase price. No agreements or declarations specifying as to how the capital in the home might be divided were entered into. Therefore, in the absence of such documents, Mr Kernott was entitled to claim an equal share of the capital even though he moved out of the home several years before the matter came to Court, and he had stopped paying anything towards the mortgage for years. He had supported their two children only on a minimal basis, leaving the bulk of responsibility to Ms Jones.

The final ruling took into account the actual circumstances of the case and found that it would be unfair for Mr Kernott to retain an equal interest in the capital, and he was awarded only 10% of the capital in the home.

In the Supreme Court, both Lords Wilson and Collins criticised Parliament for failing to legislate on cohabitation. Delivering judgment, Lord Wilson said: “In the light of the continued failure of Parliament to confer upon the courts limited redistributive powers in relation to the property of each party upon the breakdown of a non-marital relationship, I warmly applaud [this] development of the law of equity.”

I think the further point to note is that all unmarried couples should take advice as to agreements and declarations which might assist in clarifying who gets what in the event of a break up.

The debate continues…