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Former cohabitee loses claim for share in farm sale proceeds

The High Court recently handed down judgment in Dobson v Griffey [2018] EWHC 1117 (Ch).

Mr Griffey and Ms Dobson were a couple whose relationship began in 2004. In February 2007, Mr Griffey bought a farm in his sole name with the mortgage also in his sole name. The couple then lived in the farm together and carried out various renovations to the property. The relationship came to an end some years later in December 2011, and Ms Dobson moved out in 2012.

Mr Griffey made attempts to sell the property in 2012, but to no avail. He then paid for further works to the property and eventually sold it in March 2017.

Upon hearing of the sale, Ms Dobson claimed half of the sale proceeds.

Her argument was as follows:-

  1. The couple had come to an agreement when Mr Griffey bought the farm that he would buy the property but that she would oversee renovations and if sold, they would split the profit equally between them. This is known in legal terms as a constructive trust.
  2. The couple had agreed that the farm was their home for life, and therefore if Mr Griffey ever died, the farm would belong to her. This is known in legal terms as proprietary estoppel.

The Court could not find an express agreement that the parties intended to share the property, and further could not infer such an agreement from their course of dealings. Ms Dobson had not contributed to the purchase price or mortgage, and despite her significant work to the livery yard and farmhouse, Mr Giffrey had funded the materials and workmen.

In addition, the Court found that the works carried out by Ms Dobson were based on the couple’s relationship and future lives together and not on the basis of any promise or agreement that it would be hers should Mr Giffrey pass away. As such, the Court did not consider that proprietary estoppel applied here.

The High Court therefore dismissed Ms Dobson’s claim.

This decision is important in illustrating how difficult it is to establish an interest in a property even where the cohabitee has put significant effort and time into the property. Largely this is because their efforts may be construed as a commitment to the relationship rather than to a mutual intention to acquire an interest in the property.

Parties should be careful not to rely on media generated myths such as the common law marriage and should instead seek proper advice from qualified lawyers to protect their interests.

Please contact Janice Young or Holly Baker if you would like to discuss the matters raised in this article or any aspect of Property Law generally.

For Family Law advice and help in drafting a Cohabitation Agreement, please contact Shelley Rolfe or Natalie Nero.

Posted by: Janice Young
Dispute Resolution
Luton Office