Burns v Burns [1984] Ch 317

Property – Cohabitees – Common Intention – Constructive Trust – Beneficial Interest


The complainant, Valerie Burns, had been in a relationship and lived with the defendant, Patrick Burns, for 19 years. Despite taking his name, the couple were not married. They had bought a house together, but it was in the defendant’s name. Patrick Burns paid the purchase price and dealt with the mortgage instalment repayments. Valerie Burns did not make any financial contribution to the purchase price or mortgage, but she did pay for household bills and redecorating, as well as bringing up their two children and carrying out domestic duties.


The appeal concerned whether the complainant had a beneficial interest in the property upon separation under common intention constructive trust.


The appeal was dismissed. The complainant did not have a beneficial interest in the property; it was the defendant who had paid for the acquisition of the property and mortgage instalments. The house was in Patrick Burns’ name without an express agreement that Valerie Burns would have an interest in the property. The complainant made no direct contributions to the purchase price, despite her payments for the upkeep of the home and raising their children. It was acknowledged that although the complaint may have ‘worked just as hard as the man,’ this was not a sufficient contribution to have a share in the property. Lord Justice Fox stated that even though they lived together and she carried out domestic duties, this had ‘no indication at all that they thereby intended to alter the existing property rights of either of them’ [331].