This week the Supreme Court published it’s long awaited decision in the landmark case Jones v Kernott. Ms Jones and Mr Kernott bought a house together, lived together but did not marry. Like many people who choose to buy property jointly, they did not enter into any formal agreement as to who owned what proportion of the property. The relationship broke down and Mr Kernott moved out. Ms Jones continued to maintain the property and to pay the mortgage as well as caring for the children. Many years later, Mr Kernott sought his share of the property. Ms Jones and Mr Kernott disagreed on what was a fair share for Mr Kernott and seemingly so did several courts. Eventually it fell to the highest court in the land to make the decision. That decision gives those who choose to co-habit rather than marry the ability to seek different shares of jointly owned property in the absence of any formal agreement.
The court can now take into account the reality of who paid what to purchase and maintain a property. With more than two million individuals cohabiting in the UK, this is an important decision for unmarried couples who own property together and who have not entered into a declaration of trust or even a living-together agreement.
The decision is to be welcomed. The government has again declined to look at co-habitee laws and this goes some way to addressing the unfairness that currently affects co-habitees. The cost of such a major change in the law, however, is certainty. Inevitably, it will lead to more and costly litigation. Certainly, those seeking to work out who owns what will need seek advice from specialist family lawyers.
It is to be hoped that this decision will encourage co-habitees who are joint owners of a property to make a formal agreements as to what proportion of the property each owns and what is to happen if the relationship breaks down. It may be unromantic but it is in those circumstances sensible, reasonable and economic. Those who let their hearts rule their heads may find themselves part of the one of the inevitable increasing number of cases going to court which will have the combined nightmare of uncertainty and expense.
If you are interested you can find the complete judgment here.