A combine harvests a cereal crop

Unmarried couples beware

PLC has reported on the recent Jones v Kernott [2011] UKSC 53 case in which the Supreme Court unanimously reversed the Court of Appeal’s decision in relation to joint ownership of a property.  The decision will affect any unmarried couple who own property / land together.

In the case, an unmarried couple purchased a property as joint tenants, which means they had a 50/50 split in the property.  The man later moved out and purchased a house in his own name.  The woman remained in occupation of the property and was solely responsible for it.  After 12 years’ separation, the man severed the joint tenancy and claimed his share in the property.  The Court of Appeal held that the couple held the property as tenants in common in equal shares and that the man would be entitled to a 50% share in the property.

Whereas, the Supreme Court recognised the contribution made by the woman over the past 12 years and held that the man was only entitled to a 10% share.

This is a clear move by the Supreme Court to recognise unmarried partner contributions to property ownership, however, it does not detract from the fact that unmarried couples must be given proper advice at the time of purchase and should ideally enter into a declaration of trust setting out their individual share and contribution to the property.  Relationships do break down and unmarried couples must consider the consequences when they confirm their share in the property.