The Supreme Court yesterday ruled that a man from who split up from his partner nearly two decades ago is not entitled to half the value of the house they shared. It was ruled unanimously to allow Patricia Jones’s appeal against the ruling of the Court of Appeal that Leonard Kernott was entitled to half the value of the home. The Supreme Court held that Mr Kernott’s share was limited to 10%.
Despite years of separation and the fact that her former boyfriend hadn’t contributed to the mortgage even when they were together, the Appeal judges previously ruled Jones’s ex was entitled to 50% of the three-bed home in Thundersley, Essex.
‘The [Supreme Court] ruling makes it clear that even though the home was purchased in joint names, judges are permitted to substitute a fairer division of possessions in light of subsequent conduct,’ commented Ajmal Azam, barrister at Hardwicke chamber. The couple had originally purchased the home in joint names and lived together, sharing the costs equally for some eight years. They separated and Kernott left the home and Jones continued to make the mortgage repayments on the property for the next 14 years without any assistance or contribution from Mr Kernott.
The Appeal judges had awarded Kernott 50% ‘on the basis that there was nothing to indicate that the parties’ intentions had changed after separation and that it was not permissible for a court to impute an intention where none was expressly uttered nor inferentially formed’, Azam explains.
The barrister continues: ‘However, the Supreme Court has ruled that where it is clear that a couple had a different intention at the outset or had changed their original intention, but it is not possible to infer an actual intention as to their respective shares, then the court is entitled to impute or infer an intention that each is entitled to the share which the court considers fair.’
The decision is ‘a welcome one’, he reckons; flagging up the government’s failure to act on the Law Commission’s 2007 report into the financial consequences of relationship breakdown. ‘[It] and certainly provides a fair outcome for Ms Jones. However, there remains a large degree of uncertainty and, in the absence of legislative action, an acute need for unmarried couples to ensure their interests are properly and adequately protected. There may well however be disquiet in some quarters that the Supreme Court has yet again acted in circumstances where Parliament has chosen not to.’
Jon is editor of the Justice Gap. He is a freelance journalist. Jon's books include The First Miscarriage of Justice (Waterside Press, 2014), The Justice Gap (LAG, 2009) and People Power (Daily Telegraph/LawPack, 2008). Jon is a journalism lecturer at Winchester University and a visiting senior fellow in access to justice at the University of Lincoln. He is twice winner of the Bar Council's journalism award (2015 and 2005) and is shortlisted for this year's Criminal Justice Alliance's journalism award