Couples who buy a home together tend to assume that true love lasts forever and that the property should be owned in equal shares. As a High Court case showed, however, that is one very good reason why they should always consult a solicitor, whose job it is to take a more sanguine view.
The case concerned a mother of four who was never formally married to her partner under English law, although they had entered into an Islamic form of marriage. She was the long-term tenant of a council property which they acquired at a 45 per cent discount under the 'Right to Buy' scheme with the assistance of a mortgage. Very soon afterwards, he terminated the relationship and left the property. He launched proceedings, seeking a declaration that he owned half the property.
The woman resisted the claim on the basis that he had placed her under pressure to purchase the property and that, had she been aware of his lack of commitment to their relationship, she would never have entered into the transaction. She would instead have remained a secure tenant of the property. Following a hearing, a judge accepted her evidence and ruled that she was entitled to a 90 per cent beneficial interest in the property and her partner 10 per cent.
In upholding the partner's appeal against that outcome, the High Court noted that the property was conveyed to the couple as joint tenants to be held in equal shares. All the documents relevant to the transaction indicated that that was their common intention at the time. In that respect, the evidence was all one way.
The Court had no doubt that the woman would not have agreed to the property's purchase, or to it being placed in joint names, had she known of her partner's view that their relationship was essentially over. However, she had not put forward a formal case that his conduct amounted to fraud, deceit or misrepresentation. With regret, the Court declared that they had equal beneficial shares in the property.