In Stack v Dowden, the House of Lords handed down a detailed judgement setting out the rights of ownership of Mr Stack and Ms Dowden in relation to their marital home following the breakdown of their marriage.

The marriage had lasted 18 years and produced 4 children, but did not, according to Ms Dowden, warrant their property being divided on an equal basis. Ms Dowden claimed that Mr Stack and her own finances had always been kept separate, and that she had in fact contributed far more in financial terms to the purchase of the marital (and family) home.

Despite the fact that Ms Dowden and Mr Stack held the property as beneficial joint tenants (i.e. automatically on a 50:50 basis), the House of Lords found that the intention had been that Ms Dowden should actually own a greater share than this: she had contributed more in strict monetary terms to the initial purchase of the property and subsequent repayments. On that basis, the House of Lords readjusted the property’s ownership and awarded Ms Dowden a greater 65% share of it.

Following on from this, the later case of Jennifer Adekunle v Richard Ritchie saw the Leeds County Court faced with a similar issue, but this time between a mother and a son. Mrs Ritchie had exercised her statutory right to buy her council house from Bradford City Council back in 1989. Unfortunately, as at that time she was 58, she was unable to obtain a mortgage in her sole name and was unable to raise the required purchased price in any other way. As she lived in the property with her youngest son, Richard Ritchie, she decided to enter into a joint mortgage with him, based on his earnings as a bus driver, and therefore purchase the property in their joint names.

During the following years, Mrs Ritchie and her son paid the mortgage, although it was not clear at trial in what proportions, and in 2005 Mrs Ritchie sadly died leaving 9 other children, in addition to Richard. Richard claimed that, as the sole surviving joint tenant, he was entitled to the entirety of the property. The other remaining children challenged Richard’s claim to the entitlement to the house.

Following the decision in Stack v Dowden, the Court found that Mrs Ritchie had not intended that on her death, the property would pass exclusively to Richard. Her intention, on entering into a joint mortgage with him, had been to provide herself with a secure hone, Although Richard had made some financial contribution to the property and to the household, this would only entitle him to a 25% interest, not the entirely of the estate as claimed.

This is an interesting and developing area of law, having to modify legal principles given the realities of both social relationships and home ownership in Britain today. Most importantly, it is perhaps worth noting that a property’s ownership as declared on the Land Register may not always be correct.

This article appeared in the October edition of Mortgage Finance Gazette and was written by Fiona Hayles, associate in the Recoveries & Finance Team.