McFarlane v McFarlane: CANI 1972

The parties disputed their respective shares in the family home. The facts in Pettitt and Gissing ‘were not such as to facilitate or encourage a comprehensive statement of this vexed branch of the law’ and ‘much remains unsettled.’ The court reviewed the two cases: ‘two points were put beyond question. The ‘family assets’ doctrine was definitely rejected. See Pettitt per Lord Reid, per Lord Hodson, and per Lord Upjohn. And, secondly, section 17 of the Act of 1882 was held only to be a procedural provision which did not empower the court to alter the existing rights of the parties. See per Lord Reid . . per Lord Morris of Borth-y-Gest . . per Lord Hodson . . per Lord Upjohn . . And per Lord Diplock.
These decisions, as I understand them, have also established or affirmed two rather less negative propositions of law to which I must now refer. The first is that, in the absence of proof to the contrary, a spouse who acquired the legal title to property purchased with the aid of a substantial monetary contribution from the other spouse will hold the property subject to a beneficial interest therein belonging to the other spouse; see Pettitt, per Lord Reid at page 749B, per Lord Hodson at p 810G, per Lord Upjohn at p 815 G-H; and Gissing per Lord Pearson at p 264G-265B. This may be the result of some binding agreement between the spouses; but more usually it will flow from a resulting trust in favour of the contributing spouse who has not the legal title. The extent of the beneficial interests will depend on the circumstances. They will not necessarily be equal, but may be held so where that conclusion accords with the broad merits of the respective claims or with what is fair and reasonable when there is some difficulty or uncertainty in assessing the contributions: see Rimmer v Rimmer [1953] 1 QB 63. The second proposition which I take to be now accepted in Pettitt and Gissing must be stated in a qualified form. It is that in certain circumstances the first proposition can also apply in favour of the spouse without the legal title where that spouse has contributed to the purchase, not directly by finding a part of the price, but indirectly and in a manner which has added to the resources out of which the property has been acquired as, for example, by work done or services rendered or by relieving the other spouse of some, at any rate, of his or her financial obligations.’


Lord MacDermott, Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland


[1972] NI 59


Northern Ireland


CitedRimmer v Rimmer 1953
Where it is not possible for a court to identify the precise contributions made by partners to a property, the court may take a view that ‘They will not necessarily be equal, but may be held so where that conclusion accords with the broad merits of . .
CitedGissing 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 . .
CitedPettitt v Pettitt HL 23-Apr-1969
A husband and wife disputed ownership of the matrimonial home in the context of the presumption of advancement.
Lord Reid said: ‘These considerations have largely lost their force under present conditions, and, unless the law has lost its . .

Cited by:

ApprovedOxley v Hiscock CA 6-May-2004
The parties were not married, but had brought together their resources to purchase a home in the name of one of them. Nothing had been said about the respective shares on which the property was to be held.
Held: The shares were to be assessed . .
CitedStack v Dowden HL 25-Apr-2007
The parties had cohabited for a long time, in a home bought by Ms Dowden. After the breakdown of the relationship, Mr Stack claimed an equal interest in the second family home, which they had bought in joint names. The House was asked whether, when . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.


Updated: 13 May 2022; Ref: scu.199947