Posted by: RM | May 29, 2009

Joint Tenancy: Equal Shares?

I’m a bit late on this one, but workload has conspired against me. The recent decision in Fowler v Barron addresses the question which was comprehensively dealt with by the House of Lords in Stack v Dowden, namely, in what circumstances will a joint tenancy not give rise to a presumption of beneficial ownership in equal shares?

In this case, Mr Barron, a retired fireman, and his partner, Miss Fowler, purchased a property in Bognor Regis in 1998. They had an unmarried relationship from 1983 to 2005 and had two children together. The couple consciously decided to put the property into joint names but there was no agreement or discussion between them as to how the property should be held. The (unsigned) transfer document did not contain any declaration of trust but stated that the survivor of them could give a valid receipt for capital money arising on the disposition of property, implying that the right of survivorship was intended to apply. However, the declaration was held not to be dispositive.

Mr Barron paid the mortgage repayments and other house related expenses out of his pension. He also paid for most other things including the weekly shopping bill. While Miss Fowler went out to work Mr Barron looked after the children. Her income was spent largely on herself and the children. Eventually the relationship broke down and the couple separated.

It will be recalled that in Stack v Dowden the presumption of joint tenancy was rebutted on the basis that the evidence showed there had been unequal financial contributions to the property. It is perhaps a little ironic that in this case, where one party has made no obvious contribution to the property she should find herself better off, enjoying a 50% share, than Mr Stack who had contributed financially to the acquisition of the property. This is, of course, a gross over simplification of the case, but serves to illustrate a slightly curious result.

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