• In the case of Curran v Collins 2015 EWCA Civ 404,  concerning an appeal against the dismissal of a claim by a cohabitee for a share of three properties held by her former partner in his sole name, and a share in a business conducted from one of the properties, as this was unsuccessful where the failure at trial turned upon the judge’s view of the facts and interpretation of events which could not be criticised.

Facts of the Case

  • The appellant (P) appealed against an order dismissing her claim for a share in three properties acquired by the respondent (B) and held in his name, and a kennels business conducted from the kennels attached to one of the properties.
  • P and B met in around 1977 to 1978 and were in a relationship from that time until 2010. P did not move in to live with B until 2002.
  • The properties were purchased during that time. It was common ground that, because all the properties were held in B’s name, P bore the legal burden of proving that she was entitled to a share; there was no express agreement.
  • P’s case at trial was that she had made significant financial contributions by using her wages from which payments of household bills, including mortgage repayments, were made.
  • The judge was not persuaded that P had made any contribution from her earnings; her earnings were too small for her to have done so.
  • Regarding, when P had raised the question of her having a share in it B had told her that it was too expensive for her name to be on the property (the excuse); it was P’s case that that statement was impliedly made on the basis that B accepted that, but for the expense, she would be an owner of the house. The judge made important findings as to credibility, and concluded that she preferred B’s account of events to that of P.
  • P appealed on the basis that the judge was wrong to discount her evidence and to prefer that of B, in assessing the excuse by reference to subjective factors, to focus on financial contributions and not to find that the business was a partnership; to relied on incomplete disclosure of documents by B.

Issues in Curran v Collins 2015 EWCA Civ 404

  • Was the judge wrong to discount her evidence and focus solely on financial contributions?

Held by Court of Appeal

  • Appeal Dismissed

Arden LJ

  • Here, the failure at trial largely turned upon the judge’s view of the facts. Her finding on B’s credibility envisaged that she would have to exercise caution when considering his evidence; that meant that she would on some matters accept and on others reject it. That did not amount to inconsistency. 
  • There was no suggestion that her acceptance or rejection of his evidence was against the weight of the evidence so that it was not open to her. She was not for that reason wrong to accept B’s evidence at times in her judgment.
  • The judge’s interpretation of events surrounding the excuse was an evaluation by her of all the relevant facts and circumstances. The court could only properly interfere if the judge was wrong. The parties were not living together when the excuse was given and did not do so until many years later. Although that was not conclusive, taken with the absence of significant contribution it constituted material which supported the judge’s finding.

Lewinson LJ

  • “These cases do not establish the proposition that the mere giving of a “specious excuse” necessarily or even usually leads to an inference that the person to whom the excuse is given can reasonably regard herself as having an immediate entitlement to an interest in the property in question.” [74]