UK: Whose Farm Is It Anyway?

Last Updated: 27 September 2018
Article by Tara Goodwin

In the recent decision in the case of Dobson v Griffey, the High Court considers whether a co-habitee has a beneficial interest in a property owned solely by her partner.

What were the facts of the case?

Ms Dobson and Mr Griffey were in a romantic relationship for a number of years and lived together in rented accommodation before deciding to buy a property. In February 2007, Mr Griffey purchased a farm in his sole name and funded the purchase by way of a mortgage.

For a number of years following the purchase, the parties lived together at the farm. The farm was renovated significantly with Ms Dobson overseeing works to the livery and farmhouse, but with Mr Griffey funding the project.

The relationship between the parties broke down in 2012 and the farm was subsequently sold. After the sale, emails passed between the parties in which Mr Griffey offered Ms Dobson 50% of the proceeds of sale; however, this was never paid to Ms Dobson.

Ms Dobson brought a claim on the basis that she was entitled to 50% of the proceeds of sale. Ms Dobson's case was that there was an agreement between the parties that they would each have an equal interest in the farm, and Ms Dobson had relied on this agreement to her detriment. Ms Dobson also said that she contributed £10,000 to the purchase of the farm, but this was denied by Mr Griffey who could account for all of the purchase monies.

What were the issues before the Court?

The Court had to consider whether Ms Dobson had established an interest in the farm and the following points were considered:

  • Was there a common intention between the parties to share the beneficial interest in the farm at the time of purchase?
  • Did Ms Dobson's contributions to the farm works give rise to an interest in the farm?
  • If there was an agreement, had Ms Dobson relied on that agreement to her detriment?
  • Could Mr Griffey's actions after the sale of the farm be considered evidence of his intention?

What did the Court decide?

The Court considered all of the issues and held that Ms Dobson had failed to establish an interest in the farm and therefore she was not entitled to any of the proceeds of sale.

Court concluded that there was no agreement between the parties at the time of the purchase, Ms Dobson's submissions in relation to the agreement between the parties and the justification for omitting her name from the title were rejected, and the judge commented that:

"It seems to be to be a fig-leaf invented to protect her own self-respect. Mr Griffey was paying for the farm, and he wanted it to be his own exclusive property. This may have been ungenerous, but it was not morally wrong, let alone legally so."

In respect of Ms Dobson's claim in relation to her contributions to the farm, again the Court found that there was no agreement between the parties that Ms Dobson would carry out those works in order to increase the value of a property to which she claimed to have an interest. The judge made the following comments:

"in a case like the present, a person in the position of Ms Dobson might well be expected to do the kind of things which she did because of the relationship that she enjoyed with Mr Griffey, the home she had made with him at the farm, and the aspirations which they had for the future, rather than some alleged agreement between the parties"

On the basis of the judge's comments made above, he found that there was no common intention between the parties to share the beneficial interest in the farm, and therefore a "common intention constructive trust" could not be established. In order to do so, the parties' intentions need to be mutual, and in this case they were not.

Further, Ms Dobson cannot seek to rely on the doctrine of proprietary estoppel where Ms Dobson's expectations were not supported by assurances from Mr Griffey or by his conduct.

Finally, the judge rejected Ms Dobson's arguments that the emails sent following the sale of the farm showed that Mr Griffey always intended for her to have a 50% share in the farm. The emails were not evidence of the parties' intentions at the time of purchase.

Writer's comments

This case serves as a reminder of the difficulties for co-habitees in establishing an interest in a property which is solely owned by another party, even where there have been significant contributions of time and effort to the property by the co-habitee.

It also makes clear that it is property law, rather than family law that applies to establishing and creating a beneficial interest in a property. In establishing interest, much will depend on the intention of the owner to share the beneficial interest with the co-habitee. Subsequent actions to make physical improvements to the property may be evidence that the co-habitee relied on an agreement that he/she had an interest in the property and may mean that the owner cannot now renege on that agreement. However, evidence will be needed of such an agreement and evidence will be needed that the co-habitees efforts were more than just about making a home with the owner.

In order to avoid disputes of this nature, it is therefore important for the parties to fully consider what their intentions are at the time of purchase, and where possible, have these formally recorded to prevent issues arising in the future.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Related Topics
Related Articles
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Mondaq Free Registration
Gain access to Mondaq global archive of over 375,000 articles covering 200 countries with a personalised News Alert and automatic login on this device.
Mondaq News Alert (some suggested topics and region)
Select Topics
Registration (please scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of

To Use you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions