Court rules on unmarried couples' property rights

Date online: 14/11/2011

A man who left his partner nearly 20 years ago is not entitled to half the value of the house they had shared, the Supreme Court has ruled.

The highest court in the UK decided Leonard Kernott was instead entitled to 10% of its value.

Patricia Jones was challenging a Court of Appeal ruling which gave Mr Kernott an equal share of the home's value.

The Essex bungalow was bought in joint names but, after separating, Ms Jones solely paid the mortgage for 13 years.

The judgement applies to unmarried couples in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Scotland has its own law on unmarried couples' rights.

Lawyers said Tuesday's decision could alter the legal landscape for unmarried couples arguing over property after separating.

It is thought there are more than two million co-habiting couples in England and Wales.

During a hearing in May, the Supreme Court heard that ice-cream salesman Mr Kernott, 51, and Ms Jones, 56, broke up in 1993 after sharing the house in Thundersley for eight years.

The couple bought the house in 1985 in joint names and took out a joint mortgage. It was valued at £240,000 in 2008.

When Mr Kernott moved out, Ms Jones continued to pay the mortgage.

Last year the Court of Appeal decided that Mr Kernott was still entitled to half the value of the house because the couple owned equal shares when they separated and neither had done anything to change the situation since.

But Supreme Court judge Lord Kerr said that the split of 90% and 10% originally imposed by a county court judge was "a fair one between the parties".

Ms Jones's solicitor Ivan Sampson said his client was "ecstatic" with the ruling, however he added that at four years, the length of the case meant it had been a "nightmare" for everybody.

Mr Kernott said he accepted the judgment and hoped to move on with his life.

He said he had never wanted 50%, but had thought 25% was a "fair reflection" of what he had put into the property.

"When I lived there, I paid for everything and I completely refurbished the place," Mr Kernott added.

"I have been painted as this ogre who walked out on his family. I love my family, I didn't want to leave but it was made unbearable for me to stay.

"It's a sad day for men who are left in a similar position to me and it feels like the law will always side with the woman.

"I'm battling a serious illness and that is more important to me right now. I just want to put all of this behind me."

He told BBC Look East that when he left, he had agreed with Ms Jones that he would get his half of the house when she was ready to split the house up or buy him out.

"As time went on, I knew she would never be ready so I waited until my youngest son was 18 - I wanted my children to live in the house without any upheaval.

"I thought I would have been angry about this; I expected it to go her way because the judgement took so long. It should never have gone as far as this."

BBC correspondent Jane Peel said the court was saying that when a couple have not made their intentions clear, each of them is entitled to what it deems to be fair.

"The financial contributions that couples have made are relevant but there are many other factors which enable the court to decide what shares were either intended or were fair in all the circumstances," she added.

If you are unsure about divorce or separation then please do not hesitate to contact us here at Molesworths Solicitors on 01706 356666 or fill in the "contact us" page of this website.

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The contents of this article are intended for general information purposes only and shall not be deemed to be, or constitute legal advice. We cannot accept responsibility for any loss as a result of acts or omissions taken in respect of this article.

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