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Why don't you trust me?

View profile for Karen Johnson
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A story of love, of loss and of lessons to be learned…

Jack Smith is 27 years old. He is ruggedly handsome and someone most people would consider to be a genuinely nice guy. He works hard but also enjoys spending time with his friends and family. Jack is also very much in love with Jenny.

Jenny Jones is 25 years old. She is beautiful, caring and very outgoing. She also works hard, and when she is not working loves nothing more than going out with her friends or spending time with family and her boyfriend Jack.

Jack and Jenny are childhood sweethearts. They met when they were at secondary school and have been inseparable since. They can’t imagine a life without each other and often dream about their future together.

Jack and Jenny have been living together for a couple of years now in rented accommodation. It’s a lovely little place and they really enjoy living there, but what they would really like to do is buy somewhere that they can do up and really call their own.

Jack has about £70,000 as a result of an inheritance he received recently and Jenny has about £10,000. They speak to a financial adviser about how much they can obtain on a mortgage and are informed that based upon their joint incomes they should be able to borrow up to £230,000. Jack and Jenny go and view numerous properties in search of their dream home and immediately fall in love with a small 2 bedroomed picture perfect cottage in a village on the outskirts of Colchester. They are delighted when their offer to buy the cottage for £300,000 is accepted.  

They instruct a firm of online solicitors called Grabbit & Scarper to do the legal work and can’t wait for it all to finish so that they can move in. They are sent a lot of paperwork by the solicitors, but don’t really understand it, and because Jack does not like paperwork, he leaves most of it for Jenny to do and just signs where he is told.

Soon enough, it is completion day and they eagerly collect the keys to their new home. After moving their stuff in, they open a bottle of champagne to celebrate this new chapter in their lives together.

Five years later, Jack and Jenny are still living in their cottage. Life over the last 5 years has proven to be quite difficult at times. Both Jack and Jenny have faced changes with work following cut backs. Jenny was made redundant but had managed to secure some part time work and they were worried about the possibility that Jack might also lose his job.

However, Jack’s efforts at work have been recognised and one bleak winter’s morning he is called into the manager’s office expecting the worst, only to be told that he is being promoted and will get a pay rise. An extra bonus is that the manager even tells him that he can go home early.  Jack is ecstatic and cannot wait to share this with Jenny, and so he rushes home to tell Jenny the good news, stopping on the way to buy her some flowers and a bottle of wine.

Jack arrives home and is a little surprised to see his best mate Dave’s car parked outside but shrugs it off in his excitement and hurries to open his front door to get in from the bitter cold.

The cottage is laid out so that the front door opens directly into the lounge. As he opens the door he spots Jenny out of the corner of his eye and starts to tell her his good news. However, as he turns around to face her, he comes to an abrupt stop as his mind starts to understand what he sees before him. Jenny is naked. Dave is naked. What? Why? Oh…!

Jack is heartbroken. How could she do this to him and with his best friend too? He felt utterly betrayed. Jack did not think that it could be worse than this but would soon find out otherwise.

Jack and Jenny could not agree on what to do with the cottage, which was now worth £450,000, and very lengthy court proceedings ensued. The trouble was that although Jack had contributed more to the purchase price of the property and subsequently towards the mortgage payments, he and Jenny had not discussed this and it was not reflected in any way in the paperwork relating to the cottage. This meant that when the court ordered that the property should be sold, they also ordered that the sale proceeds had to be divided equally between Jack and Jenny. To add insult to injury, the court then also ordered Jack to pay Jenny’s legal costs. To say that Jack was unhappy would be an understatement.

Jack loved, and lost. So what was the lesson to be learned?

Whilst this story is entirely fictional, the circumstances are sadly commonplace. More and more couples decide to live together without getting married. There is nothing wrong with that. However, the way in which the law treats unmarried couples on separation (particularly in relation to the financial aspects) is very different to the way in which divorcing couples are treated.

Disputes between unmarried couples in relation to finances can result in very complicated and costly proceedings and make what is already a difficult time significantly worse.

The best way to protect yourselves against this is to ensure that if you are going to live together, and particularly if you are buying a home together and are going to be contributing different amounts or are going to be contributing towards a property in your partner’s name, is to get some specialist legal advice. Depending upon the circumstances, we are likely to advise that you consider entering into a cohabitation agreement setting out how you both agree to meet your financial obligations during the relationship and what would happen if the relationship were to breakdown. We would also be likely to advise you to enter into a Declaration of Trust setting out exactly what your interests in the property are.

These documents can be seen much in the same way as an insurance. Nobody wants or expects their relationship to fail. However, it is a sad reality that many do and if the worst does happen, a relatively small initial outlay can save tens of thousands later on.

I am a solicitor within our Divorce and Separation team based in our Colchester Office. We are able to advise in relation to all aspects of family law including cohabitation issues, divorce, finances and children. I can be contacted on 01206 217305 or karen.johnson@birkettlong.co.uk

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