Last week we received a lesson in British justice or maybe in the lack of it. We know that there is a well perpetuated myth that if you live together long enough you have the same rights as married couples on separation. It is only a myth and quite simply isn’t true.
Have we ever considered, however, what happens when you live apart long enough; 15 years (to the commencement of proceedings) to be exact? During that period and since the only person living in the still jointly owned home, paid the mortgage on it as well as all the other running costs and didn’t even claim maintenance from her former partner and co-owner for their children.
Now most right minded people, including the first two judges who heard the initial case and original appeal, might think that after what is now 17 years of paying the mortgage and other outgoings, the former cohabitant would be able to lay claim to a larger share of the equity in the home than their former partner who contributed nothing during that time. The Court of Appeal disagreed. Our law is clear, if unsatisfactory. At the time of the separation the parties had equal interests in the property. Nothing happened to displace those interests and the passage of time alone was insufficient to do so. Unlike in divorce proceedings there is no discretion on the part of the court to vary ownership of a jointly held property.
I can’t help thinking that the claimant in this case would have done better to have rented a Council property for 15 years and then exercised her right to buy at a discount.