Vaughan v Vaughan [1953] 1 QB 762

Wife granted revocable licence by promise to remain in matrimonial home after divorce


A wife continued to reside in the matrimonial home after her husband had left her. She obtained a decree of divorce on grounds of adultery. The husband brought proceedings for possession of the house.


The wife resisted the possession proceedings on the basis that, when leaving the house, he had told her that she could always live there. Therefore, she claimed to have an irrevocable licence to remain in the matrimonial property during her lifetime. The county court judge held that there could be no doubt that by an irrebuttable presumption of law a wife’s licence to occupy the matrimonial home was irrevocable. A contract supported by consideration was not essential. The husband appealed.


The Court of Appeal held that after the decree of divorce, the former wife could not justify her claim unless on the basis of a contract. The statement which was made to her when her ex-husband left meant that she was entitled to remain in occupation as a bare licensee and this licence was revocable. Where a promise is made which is not contractual in form and the promise has been acted upon it is not the case that the promisee is given the right to go on enjoying the subject matter of the promise indefinitely. Denning L.J. observed that the wife should have protected her position by applying for maintenance payments prior to obtaining the decree of divorce and should have also reached an agreement with the husband that he would not seek to remove her from the matrimonial home except by an order of the court.

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