It may be assumed that when a couple purchase a property in equal shares, that is how ownership remains, but it isn’t necessarily so.

In a recent case, the High Court had to rule on the ownership of a house, which had been bought for £30,000 by a cohabiting man and woman who lived in it between 1985 and 1993. When the relationship broke up, the man moved out and ceased to contribute to the mortgage and running expenses of the property and made no contribution towards maintenance of the couple’s children. He bought another property and moved there. The couple cashed in a joint insurance policy to assist him to finance his new home.

The question of the respective shares of ownership of the property had to be decided in 2008, by which time the property’s value had risen to £245,000. The County Court ruled that the share of the remaining former partner should be 90 per cent. On appeal, the High Court upheld this decision.

One interesting aspect of such cases is that the Court is primarily concerned with the intention of the two parties with regard to their beneficial interests, given the change in their circumstances. In the absence of any indication by words or conduct as to how the beneficial interests should be altered, the appropriate criterion is what the Court considers to be fair and just.