Once again dismissing the idea of common law marriages and rights, the High Court has dismissed an ex-partner’s claim for a share in the sale proceeds of a farm owned by her partner. Mr Griffey bought the farm in his sole name with a mortgage granted to him alone. The landowner and his partner, Ms Dobson, lived together at the farm and did it up together over the course of about 4 years. However after the relationship ended in 2011, Mr Griffey sold the farm and Ms Dobson claimed half of the sale proceeds. She argued that before the farm was purchased they had agreed between them that:
- Whilst Mr Griffey would buy the property, Ms Dobson would oversee its renovation and, if sold, they would split the profit; and
- The farm was their home for life and would belong to Ms Dobson if Mr Griffey died.
The court found that there was no such express agreement and it could not infer one from the actions of the parties. Ms Dobson had not contributed to the purchase of the property or the mortgage and the purchase appeared to be Mr Griffey sole decision. The court recognised that Ms Dobson had carried out significant work to the livery yard and farmhouse, however Mr Griffey had funded the works. The court’s view was that her efforts were understandable given their relationship and planned future together, rather than indicating some sort of commercial bargain between them and her expectation that she could stay at the property indefinitely was not supported by any assurance given by Mr Griffey or any action he had taken.
The case illustrates the importance of obtaining proper advice regarding ownership of a property before things go wrong, both for the owner of the property and for anyone living there who believes they might have an interest in the property. It is possible for a person to obtain an interest in a property and the proceeds of sale both by their conduct (for example work that they carry out on the property) or by the promises made by the owner of the property. Someone who invests money into a property might also be able to claim an interest in that property in certain circumstances. However for an interest to arise the owner must have intended for the other party to gain an interest in the property. As shown in the recent article by my colleague Charlotte Owens it is important that all parties to a property transaction make sure that their intentions are properly documented at the outset to avoid the possibility of disputes at a later date.
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