A landmark court ruling is expected in London today, which could affect the property rights of cohabitating couples.

Right now, in the UK as in the US, couples who live together aren’t protected under the same property rights as couples who are married or in a civil union: when a cohabiting couple breaks up, it’s up to the couple to divide assets among themselves. This can get messy, especially for long-term couples who together have amassed property, assets, and even children through the span of their relationship. If a boyfriend and a girlfriend who co-own an apartment decide to break up, who gets to keep the digs?

The London Case

Leonard Kernott and Patricia Jones split up in 1993, after an 8 year relationship. At the time of their breakup, the couple had two kids, and 50/50 ownership of a house.

When Kernott moved out of the house, he stopped all financial contributions to the property (mortgage payments, bills, etc.). Jones maintained the property (and the children) on her own.

Fast forward 13 years, and Kernott decided to claim his legal half-share of the house–after all, he was still part owner. But Jones disputed his claim, citing his 13 year absence and lack of financial contributions during that time.

If Kernott and Jones were married, then Kernott would have been legally obligated to provide more financial support. But because the couple were unmarried, a strict legal interpretation of the case would recognize Kernott as 50% owner, whether he’d been in the picture for the past 13 years or not.

But with the amount of cohabiting couples increasing should there also be increased laws protecting them?

Why It’s Important For You

The Kernott/Jones case is being heard in the London Supreme Court today. The ruling will essentially decide whether a judge can infer whether a couple has altered their respective interests in a property, when there is no specific agreement to that effect (i.e. a marriage certificate).

If the court decides that it can interfere with Kernott/Jones, it will be a landmark ruling in the rights of cohabiting couples. If the US decides to adopt similar policies, the estimated 6.4 million cohabiting couples in the United States could have the same legal protection as married couples–at least in terms of property owning.

[Times of London]