Co-habitation and equitable accounting

In Wilcox v Tait ([2006] EWCA Civ 1867) W and T were co-habitees who acquired a property as the family home and the transfer to them contained an express declaration that they were beneficial joint tenants. When the relationship broke up, W sought a declaration as to her beneficial entitlement, an order for sale and a division of the property in equal shares. T argued that there should also be an equitable accounting. He had made nearly all of the mortgage payments and T argued that W should give credit for half of all of these from the time that the property was acquired. The effect would be to extinguish W’s share of the anticipated proceeds of sale. T failed.

There could be no hard and fast rule as to whether there should be such an accounting, it all depends on the intention of the parties as to how the expenditure should be treated (Jonathan Parker LJ at [65]):

‘That said … in the ordinary co-habitation case it is open to the court to infer from the fact of co-habitation that during the period of co-habitation it was the common intention of the parties that neither should thereafter have to account to the other in respect of expenditure incurred by the other on property during that period for their joint benefit. Whether the court draws that inference in the given case will of course depend on the facts of that case.’ (Jonathan Parker LJ at [66]).

Michael Lower

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