A plea to unmarried couples

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A recent Court of Appeal case concerning former partners prompts me to write this blog to urge all unmarried couples to set out their intentions in writing. The case I am referring to is Singha v Heer (2016). This involved one of the former business partners, Mr Singha, alleging that he had a 100% interest in one of the properties they had acquired together. They had acquired a property portfolio and the property in dispute had been purchased to add to this portfolio. They subsequently fell out and the partnership was dissolved.

Upon them falling out Mr Singha claimed that three letters which the respondent, Mr Heer, had written to him demonstrated that he owned this particular property outright, because in the letters Mr Heer had referred to holding the property "on trust" for him. The court held that is was unlikely Mr Heer had meant to give the whole of the property to Mr Singha, and that none of the letters amounted to a declaration of trust giving him the whole property. The court ruled they each held 50%.

Whilst this case involved business partners, the same legal principles apply to unmarried couples. The law in this area is very different to that which applies to married couples, or couples in a civil partnership. It is therefore very important for unmarried couples to set out clearly in writing their intentions about how they own any property they purchase together. This can be set out in a document called a declaration of trust. In addition, it is advisable to have a living together agreement, sometimes called a cohabitation contract, to set out who pays for what and what would happen to their assets upon any later separation.

Whilst I appreciate putting these sorts of agreements in place is not very romantic and incurs some time and expense, it saves a huge amount of time and legal fees if a separation occurs. The law on dealing with properties is complex and uncertain for unmarried couples, but if they put in place the measures I have suggested it is usually straightforward.

For further information or advice please contact me or one of my colleagues in the Blake Morgan family team.