Who is entitled to the house?

For many years it has been clear that someone who does not own the house may be able to make acclaim over it.  The principles involved come from the law of trusts. The central argument is that the documentation on the face of it does not record the true intentions and entitlements of the parties involved.

In the recent case of O’Neill v Holland [2020] the Court of Appeal has again stressed some of the factors that need to be considered in order to create a constructive trust.

In that case the house had been in the sole name of Ms O’Neill’s father. He intended to transfer it to both his daughter and her long term partner Mr Holland with whom she had three children and business interests. In the end it was transferred only to Mr Holland but during the transaction Ms O’Neill relied on him to her detriment. That taken with the other evidence and documentation in the case led the court to conclude that although the house was only in his sole name they should both be entitled to a share.

The requirement of “detrimental reliance” is a clear element of the law of constructive trusts and was satisfied in this case. There is an implication that what sort of behaviour may amount to “detrimental reliance” might also be viewed fairly generously. This won’t open an avalanche of claims but it may make it easier to establish and entitlement in future.

Joanna Gardner

Joanna Gardner is an Associate in the Family Law Department at SME Solicitors. Please contact her, Denise McCabe or Ian Stirzaker (Family Mediator) for specialist help and advice in all aspects of family law at  or  or

Added: 10 Mar 2021 09:39

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