Property  

Pub chat can affect your break-up

Stephen Lyon

Stephen Lyon

“Well, that’s it Chip, we are now 50/50 owners — but that means you owe half the debt as well.”

These words, uttered by Andrew Horn, 58, over a pint with his partner Claire Chipperfield, 52, likely came back to haunt him when, 13 years later, a judge used this conversation as basis to rule that Claire was entitled to half their £1m property, despite Andrew putting down the majority of the deposit.

The couple, who had been together for 15 years and had two children, moved house in 2006, leaving London for Lymington, Hampshire and Mr Horn claimed he paid more than five times more than Ms Chipperfield towards their home - over £280,000 towards the £740,000 purchase.

Nevertheless, the property was held in joint names and Mr Justice Freedman recently ruled the property should be split equally.

The Judge referenced the conversation in the pub, citing it should be taken literally and he also acknowledged Ms Chipperfield’s contribution to the relationship, stating Mr Horn had "failed to acknowledge the sacrifices which Ms Chipperfield made to the family in terms of her career and the significant contributions which she made to the family finances."

This ruling certainly shines the spotlight on the problems which so often face unmarried couples.

It is true that a break-up can become much messier if the couple in question have been cohabiting but unmarried for a long time.

The idea of a ‘common law marriage’ is a fallacy, but nevertheless one that persists among unmarried couples.

Legally, unmarried couples do not have as many rights as those who are married and steps should be taken when a property is purchased to ensure, if the couple were to split, it is crystal clear who is entitled to what.

Deciding how you will own the property is important – either as joint tenants or tenants in common.

Owning a property as joint tenants means it is owned equally and if the couple were to split, the proceeds from the sale would be split equally and if one person was to die, their half would be automatically given to the surviving party.

Most married couples would be joint tenants. Tenants in common is a more suitable arrangement when one party is contributing more to the purchase of a property.

For example, if one half of the couple has contributed 20 per cent towards the purchase of the property, their property share can reflect this and will be recorded in the TR1. If one half of the couple dies, this arrangement means that their share then becomes part of their estate.

If the property is in both names, as in Mr Horn and Ms Chipperfield’s case, the usual presumption will be that it is owned in equal shares.