The High Court has ruled that a £1 million family home should be divided 50/50 between an unmarried, separated couple despite one party providing the majority of the purchase funds.
Claire Chipperfield and Andrew Horn were an unmarried couple who purchased a house together in Hants after living together in London for a period of time. Mr Horn, an affluent tech boss, provided over £230,000 towards the purchase price of their £740,000 country home. Ms Chipperfield, a midwife, provided £39,000 towards the deposit. They had children and raised a family in that home, which is now worth £1 million (at the time of the Court hearing).
After they separated in 2016, Mr Horn took his ex to court claiming that most of the house belonged to him as he had provided such a large proportion of the purchase funds. After losing in the County Court he was also unsuccessful in this appeal at the High Court in March 2019.
The court found a conversation the parties had in a pub 13 years ago to be helpful when deciding that the house was owned jointly despite the difference in financial contribution. Mr Horn accepted that he said "Well, that's it Chip, we are now 50/50 owners - but that means you owe half the debt as well." At court he argued that this phrase should not be taken literally. However, the court found that 'The reference to 50/50 meant both literally and in context that the ownership would be shared in those proportions'.
The High Court also decided that Mr Horn had not acknowledged the financial contributions to the home and the sacrifices in terms of her career made by Ms Chipperfield.
The Court felt that even though there was a degree of separation in the parties' financial affairs, ultimately, they were a family and had thrown their lots in together.
When unmarried couples separate, any property in joint names will usually be divided 50/50 between them unless it can be proven that the property is owned in different shares. The best way to set out ownership of a property if you are an unmarried couple is by getting a Cohabitation Agreement and/or a Deed of Trust prepared by a solicitor at the time of buying the property. This document should clearly set out the percentages owned by each party and can set out what will happen to the property if you separate.
This may sound frightfully unromantic. However, being up front and honest is a good foundation on which to build a relationship, particularly when money and property are involved. It also aims to save confusion and reduce any disagreements in the future.