If a property is registered in the names of joint tenants, there is a legal presumption that they own it equally and proving otherwise is always an uphill struggle. The point was made by a case in which a woman successfully fought off her ex-partner’s claim that he was the sole beneficial owner of their former matrimonial home.
The former couple, who had a young child, remained married but had been judicially separated by order of an Italian court. The home in London where they lived together for seven years had been bought for £542,000 and registered in joint names. The man nevertheless claimed that the entirety of the purchase price was directly or indirectly derived from his inheritance from a wealthy uncle in Italy.
The partially renovated property was currently empty and the woman applied under the Trusts of Land and Appointment of Trustees Act 1996 for its sale and the equal division of the proceeds. The man, however, sought a declaration that the woman held her joint tenancy on trust for him as the property’s sole beneficial owner.
Ruling in the woman’s favour, a judge was unconvinced by the man’s arguments that the property had only been placed in joint names in order to put his investment beyond the reach of fraudulent rival claimants to his uncle’s estate. The woman was pregnant and without income when the property was purchased and the evidence was entirely consistent with them having a common intention to set up home together. It had for years served as the matrimonial home.
The court noted that, at the time of the purchase, a box on a Land Registry form had been crossed, indicating that the couple held the property on trust for themselves as joint tenants. That amounted to an express and decisive declaration of trust, and the man had failed to establish that it should be set aside or rectified on the basis that it did not reflect the couple’s true intentions.