Unmarried Couples: Landmark Case Update

Family Law

The decision in the case of Jones v Kernott [2011] announced yesterday highlights the need for cohabiting couples to give careful consideration to their circumstances and what they would wish to happen to their assets should they separate.

Ms Jones and Mr Kernott lived together with their children for 8 years in a property they had bought in joint names.  When their relationship broke down Mr Kernott moved out of the property.  Ms Jones remained with the children and continued to pay the mortgage on her own for 13 years.  Mr Kernott went on to buy his own property with an insurance policy they cashed in.  The value of the couples’ jointly owned property increased in value of the years and Mr Kernott expressed his wish to make a claim for a share of it.  Ms Jones applied to the county court for a declaration that she owned the entire interest in the property.

The final ruling by The Supreme Court awarded Mr Kernott a 10% share of the property with Ms Jones retaining 90%.  The Court held that the couples’ intentions in regards to their joint property had changed on their separation.  An equal division of a property purchased in joint names can be displaced when there is sufficient evidence that the intention they had for their property at the beginning of the relationship was now very different.  The court can rule on what they believe to be intended or fair.

As reported in September the Government has decided not to proceed with reforms to the legal rights of unmarried cohabiting couples during the current parliamentary term.  However, there are still options available, such as a cohabitation agreement, which is recognised by the courts in England and Wales.  These agreements can give couples stronger rights should a relationship end, or indeed, a partner die.  For further advice and information please contact our Family Law or Property Departments.