Cautionary Tale for Unmarried Couples


A recent case in the Court of Appeal has highlighted the wisdom of unmarried couples deciding the share each of them holds in any jointly owned property before completing the purchase. To avoid uncertainty, how the interest in the property is divided should be expressly declared.
Leonard Kernott and Patricia Jones purchased a home together in 1985. Miss Jones paid the deposit and the remainder of the property was financed by a mortgage, payments for which were repaid on an interest-only basis. The couple had two children but did not marry.
In 1993, Mr Kernott moved out of the property. Miss Jones remained and paid all the bills and mortgage payments and also carried out repairs and renovations to the property. Mr Kernott contributed only minimally to the children’s upkeep and although Miss Jones could have made an application to the Child Support Agency, she refrained from doing so. Subsequently, Mr Kernott purchased a further property.
Twelve years after the couple separated, Mr Kernott decided that he wanted his share of their property. Miss Jones issued proceedings claiming that she owned the entire beneficial interest in the property. The court of first instance determined that she owned 90 per cent of the interest and Mr Kernott was entitled to only 10 per cent.
Mr Kernott took the case to the Court of Appeal. The Court decided that on separation each of them owned 50 per cent of the property and that, in the absence of any proof of the parties’ express intentions to the contrary, this division remained true today.
This case shows that the court will base its decision on the law, not on what seems fair in the circumstances. It is vital that parties who purchase property in joint names agree and evidence the share that each owns, particularly where the parties are unmarried.

Share this article