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Family law news – Solicitors welcome clarification on cohabitant disputes

21st November 2011

Family law solicitors have welcomed the clarification of the courts approach to cohabitee financial claim disputes, but many practitioners are dismayed by the Government’s rejection of the Law Commissions recommendation to introduce a new scheme of financial remedies for cohabitants.

The case of Jones v Kernott saw the Supreme Justices upholding the original county court ruling made in 2008, whereby Mr Kernott was awarded 10% beneficial ownership of the house he bought jointly with his then partner in 1985.

Following, the breakdown of their relationship, and Mr Kernott’s subsequent vacating of the family home, the couple had cashed in an insurance policy so that he could buy a home of his own. Ms Jones continued to live in the family property with the couple’s two children, maintaining its upkeep and paying the mortgage.

However, as property values increased, Mr Kernott made it known that he wished to claim beneficial ownership rights in the property. Ms Jones applied under section 14 of the Trusts of Land and Appointment of Trustees Act 1996 for a declaration of her sole ownership of the beneficial interest and the county court awarded her 90% ownership.

The Supreme Court ruling noted that the county court judge had been right to see the evidence as indication of a change of common intention for the ownership of the property and that the presumption that the joint purchase would mean joint beneficial ownership had been fairly rebutted.

The ruling gives useful clarification to family law solicitors and their clients of the principles applied in the case, and the circumstances under which a court may be forced to determine the respective shares of equity which disputing unmarried joint property owners will receive.

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