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Cohabiting couple end their 20-year legal dispute over home

A couple who separated 20 years ago have finally settled a dispute over the home they used to share.

The case may be highly unusual but it illustrates the stress and heartache that can arise when cohabiting couples don't have written agreements in place outlining how their property should be divided if their relationship breaks down.

Leonard Kernott and Patricia Jones bought a bungalow in joint names in 1985. They later separated and Ms Jones remained in the property with the couple's two children. She paid the mortgage on her own for 13 years.

However, the bungalow remained in both their names and when the youngest child reached the age of 18, Mr Kernott asked for it to be sold so he could take out his share. The couple disagreed as to what that share should be so the matter went to court.

A judge awarded Mr Kernott just 10% of the value because he had lived there for a shorter period than Ms Jones. That decision was overturned by the Court of Appeal which ordered a 50-50 split because the property was still in joint names.

The case then went to the Supreme Court which reinstated the original judge's decision to split the property 90-10 in favour of Ms Jones. That final ruling from the highest court in the land means Mr Kernott will receive about £90,000 less than if the proceeds had been split equally.

The case shows that the law is not clear on these issues and courts can arrive at very different decisions when considering the same facts.

The problem was that the couple had no formal agreement about how their assets should be shared if their relationship broke down. If they had drawn up a simple living together agreement, all those years of stressful court appearances could have been avoided.

Cohabiting couples should act now to protect themselves against bitter legal battles if their relationship breaks down.

Please contact us if you would like more information about cohabitation agreements or any aspect of family law.

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