Last week the media reported that a mother of two has successfully claimed a share in her ex-partner’s £8million property empire. But how did she make this claim, and why was it successful in the High Court?

The legal position on property rights

An unmarried partner has no automatic right to property or assets in their partner’s sole name (unless they protect their position with a Declaration of Trust or Cohabitation Agreement).

It is however possible for an individual not named on the legal title to a property to claim an interest in it. This is what Nicola Oberman sought to do when she separated from her partner, Shaun Collins.

The key facts of this case

Nicola and Shaun met in 1997, shortly before he was jailed for false accounting. Whilst in prison, Shaun sent Nicola multiple letters setting out their future, which included building a property empire together. Following his release from prison and over the next twenty years, Nicola and Shaun had two children and built an £8million property empire. Crucially, they never married and many of the properties remained in Shaun’s sole name.

Nicola and Shaun separated in 2015, and Nicola claimed that she was entitled to 50% of the equity in each property in Shaun’s sole name, on the basis of the promises Shaun had made her throughout their relationship. Shaun disputed that Nicola had any interest in the properties.

The outcome

After hearing lengthy evidence for both parties, a High Court Judge concluded that Nicola did indeed have a 50% share in 12 properties registered in Shaun’s sole name.

This was on the basis of a legal mechanism known as a ‘common intention constructive trust’, which essentially means the parties agreed they would share the properties, and on this basis Nicola had contributed either financially or in ‘monies worth’ to them.

Nicola had no automatic right to an interest in the properties as an unmarried partner, so it was for her to prove she should be entitled to one, rather than for Shaun to disprove.

Can I make a claim against my ex-partners property?

It may be possible for you to make a claim against your partner’s property for an interest in it. For more detail on this claim, see my article here.

How do I protect my properties against claims?

It is absolutely vital that you put in place the necessary documents to protect your properties against claims from an unmarried partner, either on relationship breakdown or death. As the case of Nicola and Shaun once again demonstrates, holding property in your sole name does not protect it from the various claims available to an unmarried partner.

In order to protect your assets, you should put in place a Cohabitation Agreement. Our Cohabitation Agreements are bespoke and can not only deal with jointly or solely owned properties, and seek to debar the claims available on relationship breakdown or death, but can also include provision for payment of the mortgage and utilities, rights to buy, and mechanisms for what should happen on death or relationship breakdown.