Nearly a year ago today, a case involving Stephen Farrer, a property developer and his ex-partner, Kirsty Cahill, hit the headlines, when Mr. Farrer was ordered by a judge to give his former partner a house in south London.
The Telegraph ran the headline: “Property developer forced to hand million-pound property to ex as ‘price’ for refusing to marry her ‘in case something better came along“. No doubt, that headline made those non-married cohabitees, sit up and take notice.
However, it’s important to take a look a closer look at the case, to see how and why, what at first glance looks like a strange judgement, came to be made.
This case centred around a property bought in 2007. Although the property was in Kirsty Cahill’s sole name, Stephen Farrer had put up the £140,000 deposit, necessary to buy the house.
The couple cohabited, but did not live in the property in question.
The house was sold the previous year and Mr. Farrer and Ms Cahill were arguing over who should get the net proceeds from the sale, which totalled just under £300,000.
The couple had separated in 2012 and had 3 children together.
Ms Cahill said that the property was put in her sole name to give her financial security (as Mr Farrer reportedly said that he wouldn’t marry her), while Mr. Farrer told the court that Ms Cahill knew he was the sole absolute owner and that the property was only in her name to make it easier to get a mortgage.
The judge ruled that the property was indeed owned by Ms Cahill and Mr Farrer had no beneficial or other interest in the property.
In England and Wales, cohabitees do not have many of the same rights as those who are married or in a civil partnership. Contrary to popular belief, there is no such thing as a ‘common law’ husband or wife.
This means that when it comes to property disputes between cohabitees, it is various, sometimes very complex, property and trust laws that come into play.
In this case, Mr. Farrer attempted to prove (indeed the burden of proof was on Mr. Farrer ) that he was the sole owner of the property and Ms Cahill was a trustee.
The judge in this case came to the conclusion that Ms Cahill’s version of events was indeed what had happened and that Mr. Farrer had put the house in her name to give her some financial security.
Due to the potentially large numbers of laws involved and there being no ‘common law’ spouse in England and Wales, these cases are often highly complex.
One thing is for sure though – this will not have been a ‘punishment’ doled out to Mr Farrer by the courts for not marrying his partner.
If you are concerned about your rights as a cohabitee, it can be helpful to seek advice from our expert divorce solicitors.
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