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Pettitt v Pettitt [1970] AC 777, HL

The equitable interest of a spouse in a matrimonial home.

Facts

A woman purchased a matrimonial home for herself and her husband to live in out of her own sums and conveyed the home into her name. The husband and wife cohabited the home together, during which the husband made alterations and improvements to the home. Following the couple’s divorce, the former husband claimed that he had a beneficial interest in the home as his contributions to the property had increased its value.

Issue

The question arose as to whether a spouse could claim an equitable interest in a matrimonial home in which s/he had no legal interest, by virtue of his/her decorations and improvements to the home, so as to entitle him a share in the proceeds of sale of the property.

Held

The House of Lords, overturning the Court of Appeal, held that the improvements made to the home do not entitle the husband to an equitable interest in the property. The Court held that the voluntarily-undertaken improvements and decorations of a family home served the purpose of making “the home pleasanter for their common use and enjoyment” (826). In the context of a family home, the Court cannot impute an implied common intention between spouses that regular and/or leisure undertakings to decorate a home can alter existing proprietary rights in the home; the conduct of the spouses does not give rise to such an intention and it was only claimed after matrimonial difficulties occurred. The Court also dismissed an argument that there is a presumption to treat payments made from a husband to a wife as advancements as out-dated and motivated by policy concerns of a different social era. Thus, the Court held that the husband had no equitable interest in the matrimonial home.


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