The Supreme Court has delivered a keenly awaited judgment in the case of Jones v Kernott on the rights of unmarried couples who buy a property in joint names.
The case concerned how the courts should decide who owns what in the common situation where a family home is bought in both names by people who are not married – but the principles are likely to be applied even more widely.
Until now the courts would tend to divide equally assets that were bought as “joint tenants” – a technical term that, of course, would probably mean little to those who might be signing up to that regime when they buy their home.
But the Supreme Court has determined in the case of Jones v Kernott that whilst this remains the presumption, it is a presumption that is relatively easy to shift. In those circumstances, the court has the job of seeing if it can work out in what proportions the parties actually intended to own the home. If the court cannot work that out by reference to evidence, the court can decide what it would be fair to allocate to each party, bearing in mind their overall conduct.
The Supreme Court made it clear that each case will turn on its own facts, which may well mean that former couples caught in this difficult situation might find themselves facing the high costs of going to court. What will often make most sense is to take early advice and enter into a realistic negotiation to find a solution before positions become entrenched and matters get out of hand. Daniel Coombes, a partner at Family Law in Partnership LLP experienced in dealing with issues of this nature commented “It is a tragedy that people facing the financial blow of separation also have to overcome the potentially devastating further blow of expensive and demanding litigation. This case took four years to work its way through the system and even after this decision, there is no clear guidance on this issue for unmarried couples.”
In the case of Jones v Kernott the Supreme Court restored the order of the county court that the common intention of Ms Jones and Mr Kernott had changed and that Mr Kernott was entitled to only a 10% share of the family home.