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Cohabitants and joint ownership: the implications of Stack v Dowden

Date:11 OCT 2007

Rebecca Probert, University of Warwick. In Stack v Dowden [2007] UKHL 17, [2007] 1 FLR 1858 the House of Lords held unanimously that if a property was conveyed into or registered in joint names, the presumption would be that equity followed the law, and by a majority that in the context of the family home this presumption was so strong that it could not be rebutted merely by evidence of unequal contributions. As Baroness Hale of Richmond put it, cases in which the joint legal owners are to be taken to have intended that their beneficial interests should be different from their legal interests will be very unusual.

Stack was the first case at this level to focus on the particular circumstances of cohabiting couples. Even if legislation is passed in line with the Law Commissions recent recommendations so as to provide a remedy for cohabiting couples on separation, property law will remain of relevance if it should prove necessary to ascertain their shares during the relationship (eg if there is a dispute with a third party), or on the death of one of the parties, or if the parties fail to satisfy the eligibility criteria. In this article, Rebecca Probert considers the impact of the case on cohabiting, owner-occupier, couples who purchased their property before 1997 and the changes to Land Registry forms, looking at whether a beneficial joint tenancy should be inferred from a legal joint tenancy, and what factors should be taken into account in inferring an intention to share the beneficial interest unequally. For the full article see October [2007] Fam Law.