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Trsut of Land (ToLATA) - Jones V Kernott

The decision of the Supreme Court in Jones v Kernott [2011] UKSC 53 was handed down on 9 November 2011. It lays down the principles to be applied where former co-habitees argue over ownership of property, whether the property was initially purchased in joint names or in a sole name.

The case was brought under the Trusts of Land and Appointment of Trustees Act 1996. The brief facts were that an unmarried couple purchased a house in joint names (ie 50/50 ownership). The amount of money they contributed was unequal (overall Ms Jones contributed far more than Mr Kernott). They split up after 8 years living together in the house, in 1993. Ms Jones remained in the house with the parties children and paid all subsequent bills and expenses on the house. Over 13 years later Mr Kernott sought to realise his interest in the property, claiming a 50% share. Ms Jones argued she was entitled to the house in its entirety.

At the initial trial in 2008 the Judge decided Mr Kernott was entitled to 10% and Ms Jones 90%. The matter proceeded on appeal through the High Court and Court of Appeal to the Supreme Court, where it was held that Ms Jones was entitled to a 90% share and Mr Kernott to a 10% share as originally decided.

The Supreme Court provided the following guidance for disputes about the level of financial interest a party has in a property:

  1. The starting point is that a property purchased in joint names without any express declaration of shares is held jointly 50:50.
  2. The starting point can be displaced by showing (a) the parties had a different common intention at the time bought the home, or (b) that they later formed the common intention that their respective shares would change.
  3. Where they did not write down what was agreed you have to look at their conduct.
  4. Where it is clear that they did not intend to hold the property equally the Court has to decide what is fair having regard to the whole course of dealing between them in relation to the property. This is given a broad meaning.
  5. Each case will turn on its own facts. Financial contributions are relevant, but there are many other factors which may enable the court to decide what shares were either intended or fair.

Where the family home was put into the name of one party only the Court has to firstly decide if it was intended that the other party have any share of the property at all. If so the Court has to decide what that interest is and the common intention has once again to be deduced from their conduct. If the evidence shows a common intention to share ownership in the property but does not show what shares were intended, the court will have to proceed as at paragraphs (4) and (5) above.

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