In the 21st century, it is very commonplace for individuals to cohabit with their partner. In the early stages of a relationship, a breakup seems remote. If the property is owned in your partner’s sole name, it is prudent to consider at an early stage if you would be entitled to an interest in the home you share with your partner. Many people invest their time and hard work into the “family home”, without establishing their rights. This is a tricky area of law and it is important to obtain clear legal advice at the outset.
The recent case of Dobson v Griffey  EWHC 1117(Ch), emphasised how difficult it can be to claim an interest in a property if the property is in your partner’s sole name. In this case, Ms Dobson and Mr Griffey were in a relationship and agreed to purchase a farm property in 2007, in Mr Griffey’s name, in which they would both live. Ms Dobson alleged that before the property was purchased, an agreement was reached that she would have rights in the farm or that she had the right to live at the farm for the rest of her life. She also alleged agreement was reached that if Mr Griffey should die, she would inherit the property.
Ms Dobson carried out extensive manual work at the farm, including painting, tiling, clearing gutters and drains, creating gardens and re-sealing the roof. When the relationship broke down, she asserted that this manual work, together with the agreement she reached with Mr Griffey before the farm was purchased meant she was entitled to a share in the proceeds of the sale, when the farm was sold. Mr Griffey did not agree and Court proceedings were issued by Ms Dobson, to establish her rights.
When couples are unmarried, the rules applied in the Family Court are not applicable and instead, Courts have to decide cases such as this based on property law, which many consider are inadequate to deal with the way people live in the 21st century and reflect “contributions” made by an individual such as Ms Dobson.
The Judge hearing the case decided that no agreement was reached on the terms alleged by Ms Dobson and that she was not entitled to any money when the farm was sold. Accordingly, her claim failed. She had not established any interest in the farm.
For help and expert guidance on these issues either at the outset or breakdown of a relationship contact the Dispute Resolution and Family team at North Ainley for further advice.