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Joel Tweddel
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Cohabitation disputes - promises and contributions

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The recent Court of Appeal case of Liden v Burton [2016] EWCA Civ 275 serves to highlight the difficulties which many cohabitees may face following the breakdown of a relationship, if they do not seek independent legal advice when dealing with property issues.

Ms Liden had for 12 years of the parties’ relationship, made payments to Mr Burton to enable the parties to remain in their home. The parties’ home was registered in Mr Burton’s sole name. Mr Burton repeatedly asserted to his partner that the parties could not afford to stay in the property unless Ms Liden contributed “towards the house”. Ms Liden , relying on these assertions made monthly payments of £500 to Mr Burton. Mr Burton claimed that these payments were “for rent and other outgoings.” Mr Burton subsequently claimed that the payments were “towards the house”.

Mr Burton’s repeated assertions that the property “was too expensive to run” and “payments (from Ms Liden ) were going to be needed if the house was to be retained,” were, against the factual background to the case, held by the Court to be sufficiently clear for Ms Liden to understand that payments “towards the house” were in return for an interest in the property. It was held that Mr Burton’s assurances were sufficiently clear and Ms Liden had relied on these assurances to her detriment. As a result, Ms Liden was able to satisfy the Court that she was entitled to an interest by way of proprietary estoppel . Her interest was calculated in accordance with the contributions which she had made, plus interest. The Court of Appeal, following the guidance of the House of Lords in Thorner v Majors and others (2009) UKHL 18 , upheld the decision.

T he treatment of property and financial assets following relationship breakdown is complex. Many cases will turn on the facts. This case highlights the importance of the need for certainty between cohabiting couples, so that they know where they stand in relation to their financial circumstances. Although a property may be legally owned by an individual this may not be the full story. If promises or assurances are made and are relied on by another, this may alter what was intended!

You may therefore wish to take steps to safeguard your financial position at the outset or during a relationship. Specialist legal advice should be sought in order to ascertain what your options are whether you are commencing a relationship or contemplating ending a relationship.

Please do not hesitate to contact one of our experts for advice. Our family law team are available for appointments at our offices in Spalding, Nottingham, Peterborough or Newmarket. Alternatively, please feel free to contact a member of our team by telephone on 01775 842500 to discuss matters or please send an e-mail to nickingrey@roythornes.co.uk.