The widely reported case of Jones and Kernott has caused a stir in the family law world. There is no question that by and large, it is a welcome decision, as it acknowledges the need for the application of fairness in matters relating to cohabiting couples.
Nevertheless, what this does mean is that cohabiting couples have next to no certainty if they do not clearly and expressly set out their common intentions. Ideally they do this at the beginning of their cohabitation. It is best to cover possible changes in their circumstances such as birth of children and so on, and it is possible to cover the possibility of changing intentions along the way.
At the moment the only way of protecting against the sort of outcome that Mr Kernott now experiences, since although on paper he owned half the property, after extensive litigation taking the matter all the way to the Supreme Court, he is left with just 10% of the equity in the property. And that is before accounting for his legal costs.
It may be that the judgement paves the way for legislation in this area, but in the meantime people are left with having to make their own arrangements. By far the best way of dealing with this sort of scenario is to draw up what we would call a “living together agreement” (http://www.divorce-law.org/site/family_solicitors_essex/unmarried_couples_essex/) covering all foreseeable scenarios, and setting out the parties’ intentions. By and large couples report that this improves their relationships, as it enables them to discuss what may otherwise be taboo subjects, and at the end of the day a living together agreement can be popped in the attic and forgotten about, ideally forever. However if the dreaded happens and the relationship breaks down, the parties have gone a long way to paving their way out of the relationship in as most cost effective, amicable and non-contentious way as possible.
If you wish to speak in confidence to Melanie or Tanya, please contact us.