Intermingling of finances during personal relationships means that, when they come to an end, questions often arise as to who owns what. Such disputes can be bitter and legally complex but, as a High Court ruling showed, the best way to avoid them is to take professional advice when assets are acquired.
The case concerned a wealthy couple who acquired a grand country house to serve as their holiday and weekend home. Although the man paid the purchase price of just over £1.5 million, the property was registered in their joint names. After the relationship came to an acrimonious end, he asserted that he was the beneficial owner of the entire property.
Following a hearing, however, a judge noted that both of them had made substantial contributions to the property’s upkeep. Ruling that they held it as beneficial joint tenants, he ordered its sale and the equal division of the net proceeds between them.
After the man formed a new relationship, the woman had stated that she did not want him to bring his partner to the house. He agreed not to do so and kept to his word. As a result, he forewent use of the property for about six years. In the event, he was only able to enjoy it for a few months before it was sold.
The judge found that the woman had excluded or restricted the man’s entitlement to occupy the property during the six-year period. On that basis, she was ordered to pay him £59,958 in compensation. That sum reflected expert evidence as to the rent to which he would have been entitled in respect of his half share in the property had it been let to weekend holidaymakers.
In upholding the man’s appeal against the latter ruling, the Court noted that his loss arising from his exclusion was not only financial. He had lost the use of a grand weekend and holiday home rather than a holiday let. Taking a broad evaluative approach, the Court increased his award to £120,000.