couples who plan to or currently live together are not always aware of the
legal pitfalls. Without an express declaration of trust and/or a cohabitation
agreement setting out your future intentions/interest in a property that you
co-own or invest money and time into, can often lead to a difficult break up.
One of the parties may be at a significant financial disadvantage and the court
may need to become involved.
recent case highlighted this issue. Ms Gibson applied to court against her
former boyfriend, Dr William Knottenbelt for a half share of his property in
South Harrow worth £500,000 after he ended his relationship with her. Ms Gibson
claimed that Dr Knottenbelt had persuaded her, her uncle and her father to
renovate the dilapidated property. Ms Gibson and her family did so over the
course of two years. Dr Knottenbelt then ended their relationship four months
after he moved in to the property.
Ms Gibson and
her family claimed it was understood that Dr Knottenbelt would buy the
couple’s new home, but she would have a half-share in return for contributing
to extensive renovations and their living expenses. She gave up her weekends to
help her family work at the property. She demanded £67,500 to cover her
family’s labour costs. In court, Dr Knottenbelt accepted the contribution of Ms
Gibson’s father’s contribution and said he had offered him £5,000.
rejected the suggestion that ‘the episode was a deceitful sham by William to
get his house renovated by her family without payment’. He made a ruling in
Dr Knottenbelt’s favour on the basis that no agreement was ever reached that Ms
Gibson would receive a half share of the property. The judge estimated the
value of the family’s work at £12,000. Dr Knottenbelt was awarded his legal costs for the
Ms Gibson and
Dr Knottenbelt never lived together. If they had they could have entered into a
cohabitation agreement and, even if they didn't live together they could have signed a declaration of trust. This records a couples rights
and responsibilities in relation to the property where they live and the
financial arrangements between them. If Ms Gibson had insisted that she and Dr
Knottenbelt enter into a legally enforceable cohabitation agreement to protect
her family’s significant contribution and a promise
that she was to have an interest in the property, then the outcome of
the hearing in my view is likely to have been
family solicitors based in Tunbridge Wells, Kings Hill and London are
experienced in advising clients in relation cohabitation agreements. Rebecca Hawley, a family solicitor can be
contacted on +44 1892 506037 or on firstname.lastname@example.org.