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This week has seen two of the UK’s most well-known band members, Zayn Malik of One Direction and Perrie Edwards of Little Mix call off their engagement, much to the shock of their fans.

The popular singers had been together for four years and engaged for two and the split comes just weeks after they have purchased a £3 million house together just outside of London. So who keeps the ring, reported to be worth an eye watering £30,000, and what happens to the six bedroom, five bathroom luxury love nest?

Diamonds are a girl’s best friend, but what does the law say?

The engagement ring can often be a sticking point for separating couples. Generally, both sides will feel that morally they are entitled to the ring, but the law on this issue is quite clear:

The Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1970 states that the engagement ring should be presumed to be a gift unless it can be proven that it was given on the condition that it would be returned if the marriage did not take place.

Therefore, unless Zayn can show that there was an agreement, express or implied, that Perrie would return the ring if the wedding was cancelled, she is under no obligation to do so. In practice, the Courts tend to find an implied intention where a ring bears sentimental value to the person proposing, usually a family heirloom. If they can’t agree, the Court could adjudicate on the issue.

The love nest

There is often a misconception by cohabitants that they are afforded the same rights and responsibilities as married couples, but there is no such thing as a ‘common law husband’ or ‘wife’.

Reports state that Perrie has moved out of the home she shared with Zayn, so it could be that he decides to buy out her share in the property, or they may wish to sell up and start again. Whatever they decide to do, they will need to agree upon their respective shares in the property. If they are not agreed, their case will be governed according to complex land law principles.

The first port of call would be to check whether there is a cohabitation agreement. This provides the best evidence of what was intended by the parties’ in the event of relationship breakdown.

Jointly owned property

There is a presumption with jointly owned property that ‘beneficial’ or ‘equitable’ ownership will follow legal ownership. Legally, there are two types of joint ownership:

  • Joint tenants is when each co-owner holds an equal interest in the property. Should one of you pass away your share automatically passes to the remaining co-owner;
  • Tenants in common each own a specific share in the property split however you want, for example, 50/50 or 70/30. Should one of you pass away, your share will pass to according to the terms of your Will rather than to the other co-owner;

The entitlement to a specific share of the property will normally be recorded at the time of the purchase in the documentation prepared by the conveyancing solicitors, whether it’s in the form of a Transfer Deed or Declaration of Trust. If the couple have not detailed their individual stakes in the property and then disagree as to who should receive what, they may need to go through expensive and lengthy litigation to sort matters out.

Sometimes, there is no specific declaration in the conveyancing documents specifying the shares, in which case the law will assume it’s a 50/50 split in the absence of any evidence. Alternatively, you might have a declaration, but a later event or agreement may mean that it has varied each owner’s entitlement to that share. Such situations are resolved with reference to the evidence available.

Property owned by one party only

Where a property is owned by one party only, determining the non-owner’s interest in the property is far more complex. The presumption is that the non-owner has no beneficial ownership, but it is possible in certain cases, to infer that there was an intention that the non-owner would also have an interest in the home or the value of the home, for which they can claim financial recompense.

What next?

Ultimately, if no agreement can be reached between the parties themselves, through mediation or negotiations via solicitors, then there is a property law remedy available under the Trusts of Land and Appointment of Trustees Act 1996 which will determine the dispute through the Civil Courts. It is also possible for cohabitees to pursue a remedy through the family Courts under The Married Women’s Property Act 1882, if they have been engaged and the engagement terminated within the last three years.

If you require further advice in relation to the above or are considering having a cohabitation agreement drawn up, then please contact me, or a member of the Family team, on 0343 507 5151 or email me on enquiries@gorvins.com and I will be more than happy to help you. You can also fill in our online form and someone will call you back.

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