Merely making contributions to the family finances has, yet again, been ruled by the Court of Appeal to be insufficient ground to make a declaration that a long-term cohabitee is entitled to a share in the family house.

The case arose after a couple, Mr Collins and Ms Curran, whose relationship lasted more than 30 years and who had lived together for nearly a quarter of a century, broke up. When the first of the properties they shared was bought in 1986, Mr Collins’s father had part-funded the purchase and it was bought in his sole name. The couple subsequently acquired other properties which were also in Mr Collins’s name only. He met the costs of the mortgage and other expenses relating to the properties.

The couple worked together in a dog-breeding and kennel business until their separation. Ms Curran’s earnings from the business were small and the Court was given evidence that this meant that her contribution to the expenses of the properties was small.

Ms Curran claimed a half share in the properties and the business they ran, alleging that a ‘constructive trust’ existed because they had a common intention to share both the properties and the business and that she had relied on that understanding and acted to her own detriment on the basis of the common intention.

She also claimed that the assets had only been kept in one name to avoid incurring the expense of taking out a second life assurance policy in support of the mortgage.

The Court rejected Ms Curran’s claim that a constructive trust existed.

It is risky to fail to make a binding agreement regarding the ownership of assets in circumstances like this. The court is an expensive place to resolve such disputes and the outcomes are seldom certain.


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