The law in relation to unmarried couples remains very different to that of married couples. The Law Commission recently reported on recommendations to provide some level of equality for unmarried couples but to date these have not been instituted and the law remains complex.
So what is the situation? Essentially, in the absence of any evidence the beneficial interests in the property follow the legal interests. This means that if the property is owned by one party then they are deemed to own it or if the property is in joint names it is owned jointly between them. The situation becomes rather more complicated when one party provides money or makes some contribution to the property. However, the law assumes that people do not make gifts and if they make a contribution it is because they want to establish some interest in the property.
Extensive litigation has taken place in this area because people fail to record the true position and when they are embarking on these arrangements they do not consider their position if the relationship breaks down. This could all be avoided if they were to talk to their solicitor about what they intend and ensure a suitable agreement records the situation on a break up. This would save so much money and heartache for all.
The most recent case is that of Chapman v Jaune which was heard by the Court of Appeal in March 2012. In this case both parties owned their own home but Mr Chapman lived with Miss Jaune in her home. Improvements had been carried out to Miss Jaune’s property and Mr Chapman had paid £160,000. The relationship broke down and Miss Jaune sold the property and Mr Chapman issued proceedings for the return of his money. Miss Jaune argued that the sum was a payment towards living costs but on appeal it was held that the money had to be repaid.
This latest case once again illustrates the need to take legal advice before the purchase of a property and to carefully consider how the property is to be owned and by whom. It is prudent to have an agreement recording the intentions of the parties and providing for the unhappy situation that arises when a relationship breaks down. It is also advisable to consider making a Will at the same time.
By family law solicitor, Gillian Davies