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E&W: Cohabitant is refused a share of renovated farm held in partner's sole name

Monday, 14 May, 2018

Jacqueline Dobson has lost her claim to a share of a Devonshire farm owned by her former cohabitant Matthew Griffey, despite helping him with its renovation.

Griffey bought the farm with a mortgage in his sole name in September 2006, when the parties were already cohabiting in a rented property. The couple then spent several years renovating and improving the farm, with the aim of building up an equestrian business.

In 2012, the relationship broke down and Dobson moved out. Griffey continued to live there and to pay for further repairs and improvements for five years, finally selling it to a third party in March 2017.

At that point, Jacqueline Dobson claimed that there had been an agreement between the pair regarding sharing of their ownership rights, and that she had contributed to the renovation works under the presumption of that agreement.

Accordingly, she alleged that a common intention constructive trust existed, or alternatively a claim in proprietary estoppel, entitling her to a beneficial interest in the property. She claimed that they had only put the property in Griffey's sole name because that gave them their best chance of getting a mortgage, but they had agreed in advance that they would split the profit or the increase in value on it equally.

As a fallback position, she claimed she had an expectation of being able to live at the farm for the rest of her life. Griffey had told her, she said, that the property would be hers if he died.

In response, Matthew Griffey denied that there was any such agreement, and added that Ms Dobson had exaggerated her role in both doing and in paying for the renovation works.

Giving judgment, Matthews HHJ accepted that Jacqueline Dobson had done a lot of work on the property, but found that Griffey had paid all the bills for materials and labour through his own company, and had allocated GBP100,000 of his own money to the project. He also found that Ms Dobson had not contributed to the purchase of the farm, and that Griffey had never intended to share the profits with her.

There was, he said, no agreement between the parties for the claimant to be entitled to a half of any profit realised on the sale of their joint home which the claimant would help to renovate, or that the home would be a home for both of them for the rest of their lives, or that on the defendant's death the property would belong to the claimant. Accordingly he dismissed Ms Dobson' case (Dobson v Griffey, 2018 EWHC 1117 Ch).

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