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Hammond v Mitchell [1991] 1 WLR 1127

Cohabitee seeking equitable interest in property held in sole name of former partner.

Facts

Mr Hammond and Ms Mitchell began living together in 1977 and had two children. Mr Hammond was the sole legal owner of a bungalow in Essex in which they lived. Ms Mitchell supported Mr Hammond in his business ventures. Mr Hammond told Ms Mitchell that the property was half hers, but there was no formal agreement to that effect. The couple separated in 1989, and Ms Mitchell claimed a beneficial interest in the bungalow.

Issues

As the parties never married, the flexible approach to the division of assets under the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 was not available to them. Ms Mitchell claimed, however, there had been express discussions between herself and Mr Hammond, which culminated in an express agreement that the properties were to be held on trust for them both in equal shares. Mr Hammond contended that there had been no such express agreement between himself and Ms Mitchell and claimed the equitable title to the properties should follow the legal title, and remain with him.

Held

Ms Mitchell was awarded one half of the total interest in the properties. In such cases, a court should first address whether there had been any agreement between the parties as to their respective beneficial shares. Here, the court found there had been express discussions regarding home ownership and it was, therefore, held to have been their common intention to share it equally. If no such agreement is evidenced, the court should then address whether any intention to share the beneficial interest can be imputed to the parties, on the basis of all the evidence as to their conduct during the relationship.


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