A recent case from the High Court demonstrates the problems which unmarried couples may face regarding the ownership of property. We highlight these problems in this article and offer some useful guidance. If you need legal help, please get in touch with us at our Reading offices.

The summary

The case of Dobson v Griffey [2018] EWHC 1117 (Ch) centred upon an unmarried couple called Mr Griffey and Ms Dobson. Mr Griffey owned a farm in which the couple lived. Subsequently, when the farm was being sold, Ms Dobson made a claim to establish equitable ownership.

The facts

Ms Dobson claimed that, in 2005, she made an agreement with Mr Griffey that she would renovate the property he was thinking of purchasing. Mr Griffey said that there was no such agreement.

In 2007, Mr Griffey purchased a farm in his sole name and he took out a mortgage, again in his sole name. Ms Dobson said that this farm was to be used as the couple’s home and that she would inherit it after Mr Griffey’s death.

The farm purchased in 2007 was similar to the previous properties which were the subject of the apparent agreement in 2005. The farm was, indeed, renovated and used as a holiday let. Ms Dobson played a part in this renovation, but the extent of this was disputed in court.

The couple’s relationship ended in 2011. The farm was sold in 2017. Ms Dobson subsequently pursued a claim for a beneficial interest in the farm. Ms Dobson maintained that:

  • She had relied, to her detriment, on the “agreement” that she would renovate the farm.
  • She had an expectation that the farm could be her home for the remainder of her life.

The decision

The court said that Ms Dobson’s claim could not be proved and therefore she lost.

Why is this significant?

It shows that the court sets a high bar in respect of proving that an individual who is in a relationship, but who is not married to their partner, has acquired property rights through contributions to a shared home.

It seems to be of little or no significance to the courts that an unmarried couple may be in a committed and long-term relationship whereby, to all extents and purposes, they are sharing their assets, but they are held in a sole name. This raises many serious problems for cohabiting couples.

What can be done?

Consideration of an unmarried couple’s particular circumstances is key to avoiding difficult and costly problems, and a Cohabitation Agreement can be useful in this respect. Documentation and evidence in these situations can go a long way to establishing a beneficial interest, and therefore may be of significant assistance. Obtaining advice at an early stage of such an arrangement might also have resulted in the parties being clear as to their “legal” position. For example, a Cohabitation Agreement could have been prepared so that both parties were clear as to their living arrangements and what their financial and non-financial contributions would mean to them.

Get in Touch

For more information on your rights if you and you partner are not married, please contact Paul Wild in our Family Department on paul.wild@barrettandco.co.uk or alternatively call on 0118 958 9711.

Paul also offers a £95 one hour fixed fee meeting in which you can discuss any concerns you may have.

Further Reading:

The Conveyancing Process for Buyers

Can pre-contract enquiries be overridden by a non-reliance clause?

The difference between exchange and completion

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