Posts Tagged ‘presumed equitable joint tenancy’

Australia: presumption of beneficial joint tenancy where both spouses contributed to the purchase price of the matrimonial home

June 22, 2016

In Trustees of Property of Cummins v Cummins ([2006] HCA 6) title to a married couple’s family home was held by them as legal joint tenants. The wife had contributed two thirds of the purchase price. The husband transferred his interest in the joint tenancy to his wife. He later went into bankruptcy. The bankruptcy severed the joint tenancy. The transfer was void against the trustee in bankruptcy as a transaction intended to defraud creditors. The question was whether the couple had been beneficial joint tenants on the basis that the beneficial ownership was in line with the legal ownership. In this case, half of the value of the home was available to the husband’s creditors. The wife contended that she had a two thirds share under a resulting trust to reflect the unequal contributions to the purchase price; in that case, only one third of the value of the home would be available to the creditors. The High Court of Australia held that there was a beneficial joint tenancy.

In determining the beneficial ownership, the court was not confined to the proportionate contributions to the purchase price but could look at ‘evidence of facts as to subsequent dealings and of surrounding circumstances of the transaction’ ([64]) The fact that the property was the matrimonial home had significant evidential value. The High Court endorsed the following statement in Professor Scott’s The Law of Trusts:

‘Where a husband and wife purchase a matrimonial home, each contributing to the purchase price and title is taken in the name of one of them, it may be inferred that it was intended that each of the spouses should have a one-half interest in the property, regardless of the amounts contributed by them.’ ([70])

The same applied, even more strongly, where the couple were legal joint tenants ([71]). Further:

‘The subsistence of the matrimonial relationship … supports the choice of joint tenancy with the prospect of survivorship.’ ([71]).

Note that the statement approved requires that both spouses should have made a contribution to the purchase price before the presumption of a beneficial joint tenancy of the matrimonial home arises.

Michael Lower