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Cohabitees must act quickly for protection

Napthens - May 31st 2018

Cohabitees must act quickly to protect themselves following a relationship breakdown, warns specialist disputes lawyer Nicola Turner.

The Court of Appeal case of Wall v Munday [2018] highlighted the need for parties to ensure that interests in matrimonial or jointly owned homes are dealt with sooner rather than later, to avoid what will seem like an unfair division of a couple’s main asset.

In this case, a married couple bought a house together as joint tenants (how property is commonly purchased by spouses or by non married partners).  They divorced soon after, with the wife moving out and the husband remaining in the home for the next 40 years or so until his death. During his lifetime, the husband paid all of the mortgage payments and bills and fully maintained the property.

Despite this, following his death, the ex-wife argued that she should be entitled to 100% of the property. The husband’s estate argued for a 86:14 split.

The Court found that the parties’ mutual dealings severed the joint tenancy so that the wife was entitled to a 50% share of the property and not 100%. However, there had not been any evidence of a common intention between them, observable by each of them, to vary their respective beneficial interests in the property. There was no communication between them during that long period to show an intention and so her share could not be reduced any further.

This case highlights that it is vital that former cohabitees act swiftly following a breakdown of a relationship to sort out the division of jointly owned property. Many make the mistake of thinking they effectively take over ownership of the home when they continue to reside there and pay all the bills.  But this is rarely the case – so it is important that formal arrangements are made.

Anyone in this situation should seek legal advice to protect their position.  Contact Nicola if you would like to discuss further.