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As Lysander observes in Shakespeare’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, ‘The course of true love never did run smooth’ – so in any relationship it pays to be careful what you sign.
Recently, a mother of five children who executed a deed of gift, by which she gave half of her home to her partner, found herself facing homelessness after the relationship broke down.
When the woman bought her barn conversion home in 1988, she paid the whole of the purchase price and was registered as its sole owner. However, two years later, she signed the deed of gift by which she and her partner became joint owners. They split up in 2010 and that raised the curtain on a legal dispute that has been running ever since.
The woman claimed that she had been ‘tricked’ into signing the deed and that her partner and his brother had subjected her to duress and undue influence. She argued that the brother had ‘hustled her down’ to a solicitor’s office within days of her giving birth and that she had had no idea what the document meant.
However, her claims were rejected by a County Court judge who exonerated her ex-partner and his brother. The judge found that the woman was well aware that she was gifting half of her home to her then partner as they embarked on a new life together. He had paid his fair share of the outgoings, including £20,000 towards the cost of renovation works, the domestic rates and £86,000 in mortgage repayments.
Refusing her permission to appeal against that decision, the Court of Appeal ruled that her arguments had no realistic prospect of success and observed that ‘the Court is not allowed to grant permission because it feels sorry for a litigant. An applicant cannot achieve permission, let alone success, merely by suggesting that the judge ought to have believed one party rather than the other.’
Noting that the woman’s appeal ‘smacked of desperation’, the Court found that her signature on the deed was ‘amply explained’ by her financial situation at the relevant time and her then close relationship with her partner, who had acted to his detriment in reliance on the gift.
The Court’s decision opened the way for the woman’s ex-partner to pursue possession proceedings in respect of her home. He was also seeking an order under Section 14 of the Trusts of Land and Appointment of Trustees Act 1996 for the property’s sale and the division of the proceeds.
When making decisions, the courts will apply the law, and in many cases that can lead to outcomes that may seem unfair.