Family lawyer advises couples to think the unthinkable

28th July 2010

One of the region's leading family lawyers is advising unmarried couples living together to think seriously about what happens if they split up following a recent landmark case.

Philip Barnsley, head of Higgs & Sons' family department says that the case of Kernott v Jones is a cautionary tale for unmarried couples across the UK.

"In this case, the couple purchased a property in 1985 in joint names for £30,000. Miss Jones and Mr Kernott both contributed towards the property in some form. 

"When the couple separated in 1993, it was agreed that they both had an equal interest in the property. In the intervening seventeen years, Mr Kernott had made no mortgage repayments, paid no child maintenance nor carried out any repairs on the property. 

"Initially, it was held that Miss Jones should receive 90 per cent of the value of the property.  However, Mr Kernott took his case to the Court of Appeal, where it was held that he was entitled to a half share in the now £245,000 property. The court said that the passage of time had not altered the fact that when they parted, they had equal shares in the property and that they could not infer from the conduct of the parties since the date of separation that the 50:50 split should be varied."

Mr Barnsley believes that solicitors acting for unmarried couples at the time of purchase need to advise their clients of the possible outcome should the worst happen in years to come.

"When purchasing a residential property, in addition to ensuring all the property legals are in place, cohabiting couples should also be seeking advice to protect their personal interests.

"This case clearly demonstrates the importance of Cohabitation Agreements and Declarations of Trust and in the case of a split, Separation Agreements. 

"In this case, if a Cohabitation Agreement or Separation Agreement had been made, along with a severance of the joint tenancy and Declaration of Trust, then expensive and acrimonious proceedings would have been avoided and the parties' respective property rights clearly and irrefutably defined."

To find out how Philip and his team can help you, contact 0845 111 5050.


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