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When cohabiting couples break up, failure to have legal rights clearly laid down can often lead to a dispute, as a recent case illustrates. It involved a claim by a woman for a share in the value of the house she had occupied with her partner for ten years.
The woman’s ex-partner, a ‘shrewd’ businessman, insisted that she was due nothing after she moved out of his home but has been ordered to pay her £28,500 after the court found that he had led her to believe that ‘she would have the sort of security that a wife would have’.
The man pointed out that he had paid for the £240,000 home, ownership of which was in his sole name, and that he had covered the payments on the £100,000 mortgage. He said that he had never envisaged marrying his teaching assistant girlfriend and insisted that he had never promised her anything.
However, in finding that the woman was entitled to a settlement, a judge noted that she had ‘taken a big risk’ by giving up her own secure home, on which she had spent considerable sums, and in abandoning her job in order to move, with her two young children, to live with her boyfriend.
The couple had made a joint decision to buy the house in 2002. The court noted that the man ‘made sure she was kept away from any paperwork that might suggest she had an interest’ in the property. When their relationship ended in acrimony in 2012, she moved out with her children and the locks were promptly changed.
The woman had realised with the benefit of hindsight that she had been ‘too trusting and foolish’, relying on her boyfriend’s assurance that ‘she would always have a secure home’ with him.
Her claim that she had been promised an equal share in the property was rejected by the judge. However, he concluded that ‘the promise made was not of a half share in the house, but it was of security’, and that promise had not been fulfilled. In the judge’s view, it would be unconscionable for the businessman to do anything other than to seek to put his ex-partner back in much the same position as she was in before she gave up her own house. To that end, he awarded her the sum of £28,500.
Her ex-partner appealed to the Court of Appeal and lost. The Court could detect no flaw in the judge’s reasoning.