Cohabitation gone wrong
- Jacqueline Dobson and Matthew Griffey are both in their 50s. She claimed he assured her she would have “a home for life” at his Devon farm and that during a lunch at a local pub he promised to split the property with her. She also claimed that following their acrimonious split in 2011, he reneged on the agreement.
- Mr Griffey bought the farm for £660,000 in 2007 and in March last year, sold it for £967,500. Ms Dobson sought half the profit, claiming there had been “an express understanding” that the farm would provide them both with a home for life.
- The court ruled that there had never been an agreement to share the property. He alone paid for the farm and the mortgage, and an ambitious renovation project.
- The court did accept that Ms Dobson had put a “great deal of heavy and laborious work” into transforming the farm into a desirable family home, complete with livery stable, but she had done so in the “entirely natural” hope that she had a “long term future” with Mr Griffey and they would have children together. However, the judge concluded that she had not intended it as a money-making venture and they had never struck “a commercial deal” and that “the decision to buy the farm was Mr Griffey’s alone. Ms Dobson was not contributing to the purchase price, or to the mortgage.”
- The court also accepted that Ms Dobson did have “some kind of expectation” that she would be able to live in the farmhouse for as long as she wished. But neither that, nor the work she put into the property, was based on any promises made by Mr Griffey.
- The judge concluded: “This case is not about the rights and wrongs of their relationship, and how it unfortunately broke down. Instead, this case has been about their property rights”.
- Ms Dobson’s claim was dismissed.
- Although the claim was never a very strong one, if the claimant had attracted the sympathy of the court she may well have been awarded some interest. The judge was discouraged by the quality of her evidence describing Ms Dobson as “an intelligent, well educated person, astute and quick witted”, but “prone to exaggeration”, “utterly convinced she was right” and “wanted the last word in every debate”. By contrast, Mr Griffey was described as “quietly spoken and rather reticent” in the witness box and his “clear and transparent” evidence had “the ring of truth” about it.
- The case underlines the significance of the oral evidence of the parties at trial in these cases where the search is for evidence of past agreements. Credibility and presentation is crucial. On another day, on similar facts, in a case where the claimant gave evidence in a less combative manner the result may have been different.
- The Family Law Company believes it is crucial for unmarried couples to put a cohabitation agreement in place; this keeps a record of any agreements made and will be a strong part of any case taken to court.
If you are in an unmarried relationship and are in need of advice, or if you would like to discuss putting a cohabitation agreement in place, this is my specialist area. Please call me on 01392 421777.