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Putting a value on 33 years of cohabitation
The Court of Appeal has recently awarded a cohabitee a 25% beneficial interest in a property solely owned by her partner despite the Court finding that her financial contribution had been “insignificant”
In the recent Court of Appeal case of Graham-York –v- York, the claimant cohabitee (Miss Graham-York) claimed a beneficial interest in her home which was held in her deceased partner’s sole name, Norton York, and which was worth over £1.2 million.
Miss Graham-York and the late Mr York lived together between 1976 and Mr York’s death in 2009. Their home was purchased by Mr York with the benefit of a mortgage taken out by Mr York. After Mr York’s death, mortgage arrears developed and the mortgage lender obtained an order for possession. This order was challenged by Miss Graham-York who argued that she had a beneficial interest in the property equating to 50% of the value of the property.
At trial, the County Court determined that Miss Graham-York did have a beneficial interest in the property but that it was limited to 25% of its value. Miss Graham-York appealed this decision to the Court of Appeal arguing that she was entitled to 50% of the value.
What emerged from the witness evidence was that throughout their relationship, Mr York had assumed sole responsibility for the management of the family and household expenditure and that the financial contributions from Miss Graham-York were extremely limited. Indeed, the judge stated in rather damning terms that “even if she were telling the truth about her financial contribution during the 33 years of their co-habitation, it does not amount to much”.
Miss Graham-York argued that although her direct financial contributions may not have amounted to much, it was only fair for her to have an equal share of the property given the length of her co-habitation with Mr York (33 years) and the contribution that she had made by bringing up their daughter.
The Court of Appeal did comment that it was possible in a case such as this to be led astray by the length of the co-habitation and that one must focus on valuing the actual contributions, both financial and non-financial.
Ultimately, given that the financial contributions were negligible, the Court was left with the unenviable task of assessing the non-financial contributions over the years. This boiled down to two key elements: the fact that Miss Graham-York had played a primary role in looking after their daughter, and the fact that she cooked the family meals.
The Court ruled that these two elements justified a valuation of her interest in the property at 25%.
The Court’s ruling has been criticised by some as being overly generous give that this was a case where the cohabitee’s financial contributions were virtually non-existent. The case demonstrates that the Court will look closely at the extent of an individual’s non-financial contributions.
It is also worth noting that Miss Graham-York believed that because of the length of the co-habitation, the starting point for assessing her interest in the property should have been 50%. This was where Miss Graham-York got off on the wrong foot. In fact, where a cohabitant is not a registered owner of a property, the Court will adopt a starting point of a 0% interest. Only if there is evidence of contributions will the Court will work up from that zero starting point.
For any advice in relation to issues raised in this article, please contact Andrew Turner on 01242 586 841 or firstname.lastname@example.org.