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Landmark ruling for unmarried couples, Georgina Chase explains

The rights of up to two million unmarried couples are to be decided by a landmark ruling which could change the legal rights of cohabitants forever.

The Supreme Court will decide whether a man who left his partner nearly 20 years ago is entitled to half the value of the house that they shared.

The couple split up in 1993 after sharing a house in Essex, for eight years. Mr Kernott moved out of the property, leaving Ms Jones to pay the mortgage, maintain the property and bring up the parties’ two children.

After the children had grown up, Mr Kernott claimed his half share. However, Ms Jones disputed his claim and both the County Court and the High Court agreed, awarding her a 90% share. Mr Kernott appealed and argued that he was entitled to half the value of the property because the couple owned equal shares when they separated and neither party had done anything to change the situation since. The Court of Appeal agreed with Mr Kernott. Lord Justice Wall said that the case was a “cautionary tale” for all cohabitants buying a house together.

Ms Jones has now launched her landmark case against the ruling of The Court of Appeal. If the couple had been married, the Matrimonial Pot would have been divided according to established principles that allow Judges to decide what is fair. Ms Jones has said that she believes the law should be the same for unmarried couples as it should be for married couples.

When the couple lived together, Mr Kernott had done renovations to the property and contributed to the household expenses, including the mortgage. However, after he left the property, it is understood he made no further contribution.

The Supreme Court will decide whether a Court can infer that a couple have altered their respective interests in a property if there is no specific agreement or evidence confirming the same.

In this case, both parties had originally owned the property jointly. The Court of Appeal therefore held, applying property law and the law of trusts, that the 50-50 division still applied as there was no agreement or evidence that altered this. However, the QC opening the appeal on behalf of Ms Jones, said that there was enough evidence “to infer that from 1993 onwards, at the very least, the parties intended to hold shares in the property other than equally”.

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