Evidence of the intentions of cohabitants

Evidence of the intentions of cohabitants

Family analysis: Graeme Fraser, partner at Hunters Solicitors, explains how the decision in Ely v Robson shows that, in the absence of family law based cohabitation statutory remedies, the court will continue to scrutinise the available evidence to demonstrate the parties’ intentions when it comes to agreements between cohabitants.

Original news

Ely v Robson [2016] EWCA Civ 774, [2016] All ER (D) 140 (Jul)

The Court of Appeal, Civil Division, dismissed an appeal against a declaration made in the county court regarding the parties’ interests in a property legally owned by the respondent. The judge had been entitled to reject the appellant’s evidence, and to accept that of the respondent, before finding that the parties had entered into an oral agreement agreeing their respective interests in the property. That agreement was binding upon the parties, and the respondent had relied on the agreement to his detriment by not pursuing his earlier claim for possession of the property.

What issues did this case raise?

This case involved a dispute regarding Mr Ely’s and Ms Robson’s respective beneficial interests in a property, 6 Torbay Road. Mr Ely had purchased that property in his sole name, with no contribution from Ms Robson to the purchase price. Up until their estrangement, they lived at that property, which also provided accommodation for their children, Ms Robson’s aunt, and her elderly mother, for about 18 years. After the relationship broke down, Ms Robson refused to move out of the property. Mr Ely’s evidence was that:

  • during a meeting with no solicitors present, the parties agreed a compromise of their claims
  • that agreement was subsequently confirmed by a letter from Mr Ely’s solicitor’s letter confirming that the property would be held on trust for Mr Ely for life, with an 80:20 split of the beneficial interest in his favour, and
  • Ms Robson would have the right to occupy the property for as long as her aunt and elderly mother were alive

Ms Robson, however, subsequently disputed this on the basis that

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