Rights of the unmarried

Supreme Court

Family lawyers have renewed calls for legislative reform following a unanimous ruling by the Justices on the property rights of unmarried couples.

Giving judgment in Jones v Kernott the Supreme Court held that where the legal title to a property is held in joint names by an unmarried couple but there is no express statement of how it is to be shared, the presumption of joint beneficial ownership can be rebutted by evidence that it was not, or ceased to be, the common intention of the parties to hold the property jointly.

Each case will turn on its own facts; here, the parties bought the house in 1985 in their joint names and there was no evidence to rebut the assumption of joint beneficial ownership until 1993 when Mr. Kernott moved out and ceased to contribute towards the running of the house. In those circumstances the court could infer or impute a change in the intention to the parties. Where an actual intention cannot be inferred then the court may impute an intention that each is entitled to the share which the court considers fair. Ms. Jones was awarded a 90% share.

David Allison, Chair of Resolution, said, “Whilst we welcome today’s judgment, the fact that it has taken four different hearings in four different places to determine the outcome highlights that the law for cohabitants is a mess and is in urgent need of reform”.
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