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Constructive trust claim

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A cohabitee, Jacqueline Dobson (“the Claimant”), recently lost her claim to a share of a farm owned by her former partner Matthew Griffey (“the Defendant”).

The case (Dobson v Griffey [2018] EWHC 1117 Ch) concerned a farm based in Devonshire, which was bought by the Defendant in 2006. The house was registered in his sole name and purchased using a mortgage in his sole name.

The Claimant and Defendant then spent a number of years carrying out renovations on the farm. They had apparently had the aim of building up an equestrian business on the land.

Unfortunately, their relationship broke down in 2012 and the Claimant moved out. The Defendant lived there for a further five years, carrying out further repairs and improvements in the process. The farm was then sold in March 2017.

Following the sale of the farm, the Claimant argued that there had been an agreement between her and Defendant that they owned the farm jointly. She had contributed to the renovations that took place between 2006 and 2012 on the basis of the agreement.

Accordingly, the Claimant argued constructive trust existed between the parties, or alternatively that she was entitled to share of the proceeds of sale by virtue of proprietary estoppel.

It was the Claimant’s case that they had only put the farm into the Defendant’s sole name because this represented their best chance of obtaining a mortgage. The Defendant argued that this had never been the case. There was no evidence that the Claimant had contributed towards the purchase price.

The Judge did accept that the Claimant had done a significant amount of work on the farm, but he also found that the Defendant had also contributed a significant amount of money into the farm as well as his own labour. There was no evidence that any of the Claimant’s money had been used for the renovations.

The Judge also rejected the Claimant’s secondary argument that she had been promised that she could live at the farm for the rest of her life and found that there was no evidence of such an agreement.

The Claimant’s case was dismissed in full.

This case highlights the difficulties that can often be faced by cohabitees who are seeking to establish an interest in property. These claims are notoriously difficult to evidence. In such situation it will always be preferable to obtain something in writing, especially when the claimant will be unable to show any significant financial contribution.

If you have any questions about this article, please contact Liam Brooke of our Contentious Private Client Department at 0113 336 3340 or liam.brooke@clarionsolicitors.com.

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