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Stack v Dowden [2007] 2 AC 432 House of Lords

Ms Dowden and Mr Stack were co-habitees. They purchased a house in their joint names but made no declaration as to entitlement of the beneficial interest in the property. The purchase price of £190,00 came from  £129,000 of MS Dowden’s savings and sale of her previous property. The remainder came from an interest only mortgage and two separate endowment policies. Mr Stack paid the mortgage instalments totalling £27,000, Ms Dowden paid £38,000. Ms Dowden paid the majority of the utility bills. They had separate bank accounts and made separate investments. The parties then separated and Mr Stack brought an action for sale of the property and distribution of the proceeds in equal shares.

Held:

The starting point for determining beneficial interests where the legal title was held jointly is that beneficial interest will also be held jointly. This presumption may be displaced where there is evidence that this was not their intention.

Baroness Hale

“In the cohabitation context, mercenary considerations may be more to the fore than they would be in marriage, but it should not be assumed that they always take pride of place over natural love and affection. At the end of the day, having taken all this into account, cases in which the joint legal owners are to be taken to have intended that their beneficial interests should be different from their legal interests will be very unusual.”

This is, therefore, a very unusual case. There cannot be many unmarried couples who have lived together for as long as this, who have had four children together, and whose affairs have been kept as rigidly separate as this couple's affairs were kept. This is all strongly indicative that they did not intend their shares, even in the property which was put into both their names, to be equal (still less that they intended a beneficial joint tenancy with the right of survivorship should one of them die before it was severed.) Before the Court of Appeal, Ms Dowden contended for a 65% share and in my view she has made good her case for that.”

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