Abbott v Abbott
Citations:  UKPC 53;  1 FLR 1451.
A divorced husband and wife asked the Court of Appeal of Antigua and Barbuda to determine their respective shares in the equitable title of their matrimonial home. The husband’s mother gifted him the land in his sole name. She intended him to use it to build the couple’s matrimonial home. The mother also contributed a substantial amount of the money used to build the house. The rest was paid for by a loan paid into the couple’s joint account. The couple jointly paid the mortgage and used their respective life insurances to secure it. In all other areas, the couple pooled and jointly managed their finances.
In Antigua and Barbuda at the time, the court had no special powers to allocate matrimonial property. Therefore, the position was determined by the same law applicable to all co-ownership cases. The High Court held that the couple held the equitable title in equal shares. The Court of Appeal overturned this, relying on Lord Bridge’s dicta in Lloyd’s Bank plc v Rosset  1 AC 107, on the grounds that the wife had contributed only a small amount to the purchase price. The wife appealed to the UK Privy Council.
- Was the Court of Appeal correct to apply Rosset to a family home case?
- What conduct is relevant when determining a party’s share in a family home under a constructive trust?
The Privy Council overturned the Court of Appeal’s decision and reinstated the High Court’s decision. The parties behaviour throughout their relationship clearly indicated an intention to hold the property jointly and equally in equity. They organised their finances jointly, paid for the mortgage jointly, and the mother’s gift had been to them as a joint couple, not to the husband alone.
This Case is Authority For…
When determining the shares held by co-owners in a family home, the court must look beyond who paid the purchase price. It should assess the whole course of the parties’ conduct in relation to the property across the relationship.
Baroness Hale noted that: ‘if a parent gives financial assistance to a newly married couple to acquire their matrimonial home, the usual inference is that it was intended as a gift to both of them rather than to one alone’.