Gissing v Gissing: HL 7 Jul 1970

Evidence Needed to Share Benefical Inerests

The family home had been purchased during the marriage in the name of the husband only. The wife asserted that she had a beneficial interest in it.
Held: The principles apply to any case where a beneficial interest in land is claimed by a person, whether spouse or stranger, in whom the land is not vested. A common intention has to be inferred from the parties’ conduct as to how the beneficial interest is to be held. The relevant intention is that which a reasonable person would draw from the parties’ words or conduct. The court must determine what inferences can reasonably be drawn in each case.
Viscount Dilhorne said: ‘It may be that it is alleged that some time after the acquisition of the matrimonial home the spouses formed the intention of sharing the beneficial interest. It may well be difficult to establish this but if it was, for instance, proved that up to the time when such an intention is alleged to have been formed, the mortgage payments were made by one spouse and thereafter by the other, then proof of that would tend to support the allegation.’
Lord Diplock said that where the most likely inference from the parties’ conduct is that the beneficial interest was not to belong solely to the party in whom the legal title is vested, the court must determine what in all the circumstances is a fair share: ‘A resulting, implied or constructive trust – and it is unnecessary for present purposes to distinguish between these three classes of trust – is created by a transaction between the trustee and the cestui que trust in connection with the acquisition by the trustee of a legal estate in land, whenever the trustee has so conducted himself that it would be inequitable to allow him to deny to the cestui que trust a beneficial interest in the land acquired. And he will be held so to have conducted himself if by his words or conduct he has induced the cestui que trust to act to his own detriment in the reasonable belief that by so acting he was acquiring a beneficial interest in the land.’
As to the shares upon which the property was held: ‘In such a case [where the court is satisfied that it was the common intention of both spouses that the contributing wife should have a share in the beneficial interest and that her contributions were made upon this understanding] the court must first do its best to discover from the conduct of the spouses whether any inference can reasonably be drawn as to the probable common understanding about the amount of the share of the contributing spouse upon which each must have acted in doing what each did, even though that understanding was never expressly stated by one spouse to the other or even consciously formulated in words by either of them independently. It is only if no such inference can be drawn that the court is driven to apply as a rule of law, and not as an inference of fact, the maxim ‘equality is equity’, and to hold that the beneficial interest belongs to the spouses in equal shares.
The same result however may often be reached as an inference of fact. The instalments of a mortgage to a building society are generally repayable over a period of many years. During that period, as both must be aware, the ability of each spouse to contribute to the instalments out of their separate earnings is likely to alter, particularly in the case of the wife if any children are born of the marriage. If the contribution of the wife in an early part of the period of repayment is substantial but is not an identifiable and uniform proportion of each instalment, because her contributions are indirect or, if direct, are made irregularly, it may well be a reasonable inference that their common intention at the time of the acquisition of the matrimonial home was that the beneficial interest should be held by them in equal shares and that each should contribute to the cost of its acquisition whatever amounts each could afford in the varying exigencies of family life to be expected during the period of repayment. In the social conditions of today this would be a natural enough common intention of a young couple who were both earning when the house was acquired but who contemplated having children whose birth and rearing in their infancy would necessarily affect the future earning capacity of the wife.’

Lord Diplock, Viscount Dolhorne, Lord Reid, Lord Morris, Lord Pearson
[1970] 3 WLR 255, [1971] AC 886, [1970] 2 All ER 780, [1970] UKHL 3
England and Wales
Cited by:
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CitedEves v Eves CA 28-Apr-1975
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CitedParris v Williams CA 23-Oct-2008
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CitedThorner v Major and others HL 25-Mar-2009
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CitedCooper and Others v Fanmailuk.Com Ltd and Another CA 17-Dec-2009
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CitedJones v Kernott SC 9-Nov-2011
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CitedSingh v Singh and Another ChD 8-Apr-2014
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CitedLloyds Bank plc v Rosset CA 13-May-1988
Claim by a wife that she has a beneficial interest in a house registered in the sole name of her husband and that her interest has priority over the rights of a bank under a legal charge executed without her knowledge. The case raises a point of . .
CitedSen v Headley CA 28-Feb-1991
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Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Family, Trusts, Estoppel

Leading Case

Updated: 25 November 2021; Ref: scu.182237