COHABITING COUPLES AND THEIR RIGHTS
Last Tuesday the Circuit Court dismissed a claim brought by Caroline Carr
against her former boyfriend about the ownership of a house they shared. The
Court was told that her boyfriend, Conor Gately, had bought a house in
Letterkenny in November 2001 using €12,000 from his savings as a deposit. He
moved into the house in January 2002, whilst Caroline Carr moved into the
property in June 2002.
Ms. Carr claimed that she paid half the monthly mortgage and paid for a lot of the
furniture and furnishings in the house. She claimed that the purchase had been
a joint move by the couple and that her name had not been put on the deeds of
the house in order to protect her first time buyers grant. The property was
therefore solely in her boyfriend’s name.
Unfortunately, the couple’s relationship deteriorated after they moved in with
each other and they eventually split up in April 2003. In the Circuit Court, Ms.
Carr sought 40% of the value of the house on the basis that she had paid money
towards the mortgage and the furnishing of the property. Her case was rejected
by the Circuit Court who claimed that she had no equitable interest in the house
because it was bought with her boyfriend’s savings. The Court directed that she
must vacate the property within six months.
Disputes such as this are quite common in Ireland because of the increase in the
number of couples who live together prior to marriage and the number of
cohabiting homosexual couples.
In order for a person to avoid being left with nothing after investing in a property
with a partner, it is advisable to protect your rights. Here are some tips:
i. GET YOUR NAME ON THE DEEDS OF THE PROPERTY. If a couple is
purchasing a property together both should insist that both their names go
on the deeds of the property. If you are buying a property as a couple, it
should be in both your names and not simply the man’s, even if he is
putting more money into it than you;
ii. DON’T SELL YOUR OWN PROPERTY AND INVEST ALL THE
PROCEEDS IN HIS HOUSE. Frequently, as a relationship develops, a
couple decides that the woman should sell her property and use the
proceeds either to pay off the mortgage on the man’s property or to invest
in refurbishing his property which becomes the couple’s new home. A
woman shouldn’t agree to this unless the man agrees that she will be
added as a named owner on the deeds of his property;
iii. IF YOU ARE CONTRIBUTING TO THE DEPOSIT MAKE SURE YOUR
NAME IS ON THE DEEDS. Just because you are not putting up as much
money for the deposit does not mean that you should not be named as
joint owner. Insist that your name is put on the deeds of the property;
iv. DON’T AGREE TO MORTGAGE PAYMENTS UNLESS YOUR NAME IS
ON THE DEEDS. Many women end up paying half the mortgage of a
property owned by their boyfriend and this is sometimes classified as
“sharing the rent”. If you are paying the mortgage on a consistent basis
and intend to do so over many years insist that you become a joint owner
of the property, not merely a tenant.
v. NOT ALL IS LOST IF YOU’RE NOT A NAMED OWNER. Sometimes
even if you are not a named legal owner of the property, a Court may
make a declaration that you have an equitable interest in the property
because of the amount of effort and money invested by you.
Unfortunately, this type of interest is vague and generally requires a
determination from the Court before it exists;
vi. REACH AN AGREEMENT IN WRITING BEFORE YOU MOVE IN. If the
property is to remain in the name of only one of the couple, the other party
should seek to reach agreement as to what financial or property interest
they have in the property. Although it may not be a very romantic start to
cohabitation, a woman should try to establish what property is hers and
what she will be entitled to in the event of any separation.
Many people shy away from raising these issues with their partners because they
are concerned about how they may be interpreted. What is clear from disputes
that come before the Courts is that people would be much better advised to
agree these issues when their relationship is going well rather than waiting for it
to break down and then paying lawyers to resolve it for them.
Jim O’Callaghan is a Barrister and a Fianna Fáil candidate in Dublin South