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Sole legal ownership of a property may not be enough to protect your beneficial interest

So you live with your partner, you are not married and you own the property in your sole name therefore your interest in the property is protected, right?


The property rights of unmarried couples is a complex area of the law. So complex that recently a case made it up to the highest Court inEngland andWales for determination. Although that case related to property rights of a couple who had a joint registered interest in the property some indication was given as to the implication this has on unmarried couples who live together in a property owned in the sole name of one of the couple.

If the property the unmarried couple live in is registered in the sole name of one of the couple there is no presumption that the other person has any beneficial interest in the property.

However, what sole owners need to be aware of that a common intention of an interest in the property can be deducted from conduct and if there is a common intention established and the shares not clear the court can impute what interest they  think is fair.

The most clear example of conduct that could result in a common intention of an interest in the property being deducted is financial contributions such as paying for refurbishment works or paying the mortgage instalments, however whilst financial contributions are relevant there are many other factors the court could take into account, the court will take into account the whole course of dealing between the couple in relation to the property. Each case will turn on its own facts.

The law surrounding the property rights of unmarried couples is often misunderstood. Let’s make it clear there is no such thing as a common law wife or husband. Just because a couple live together doesn’t give them the same legal rights as couples who are married. With the societal shift in the structure of relationships, with two million couples estimated to be cohabiting in theEnglandandWales, this is something that the law has to address to ensure fair results are reached.

But what can you do if you want to secure your sole beneficial interest in your property? The best thing to do is to enter into a Cohabitation Agreement, this will clearly set out what the common intentions are. It is important to keep the Agreement regularly under review and up to date.

Getting specialist legal advice on property rights at the start of any relationship is important and can prevent difficulties arising in the future. You can contact our specialist Family Team . The Head of the Team is Charles Le May who is a Resolution Accredited Specialist in dealing with issues between unmarried couples.

 By Gemma Hope