Supreme Court judgment announced today is cautionary tale for all unmarried couples

9th November 2011

A leading family lawyer says that a decision announced today by the Supreme Court is a cautionary tale for all cohabiting, non-married couples in the region.

Philip Barnsley, head of Higgs & Sons' family team, says that the judgment, relating to the case of Kernott v Jones, again highlights the case for cohabiting couples to do more to protect their interests during happy times.

"The Kernott v Jones case is a classic example of what can go wrong when a relationship ends," explains Philip.

"The parties 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 1995 the property was marketed for sale, but after it failed to sell, it was agreed by the parties that a joint endowment policy would be encashed and the proceeds paid to Mr Kernott, to allow him to purchase a property in his sole name.

"In the intervening seventeen years, Mr Kernott made no mortgage repayments, paid no child maintenance, nor carried out any repairs on the property. He then applied for a share of the property once the children were over 18. Initially, it was held that Miss Jones should receive 90% of the value of the property.

"Mr Kernott took his case to the Court of Appeal, where it was decided that he was entitled to 50% of the £245,000 equity. The court decided 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.

"Now, the Supreme Court has unanimously allowed the appeal of Miss Jones, thereby reinstating the original County Court judgment."

Philip Barnsley says that courts appear to be making decisions on a very individual basis for every case. "Now, more than ever, co-habiting couples need to do more to protect their interests. Couples certainly need to think the unthinkable during happy times to protect themselves should things change in the future. The importance of cohabiting couples entering into Cohabitation Agreements and Declarations of Trust at the outset and then Separation Agreements upon the event of the relationship failing have never been so relevant."


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