The gift that needs a lawyer England
August 28, 2016 12:29 AM   Subscribe

YANMUKL, 15 years ago my partner's children's grandmother gave her £30,000 "from her son's inheritance" to pay off the mortgage on her house. 10 years later, he moves out. I move in a year later. Now he is sending very nasty emails claiming he will sue for the money if she doesn't give it back to him. Should I get a lawyer?

They were not a couple but two people who saw a momentary attraction that lead to one wildly unprepared person becoming a father. They lived under the same roof in separate beds (his choice) in separate rooms for the last 12 years of their relationship. He seemed relieved when he moved out and actually became more interested in his kids but no attempt was made to reconcile. Then she met me six months later and I moved in about six months after that.

He went on a six month holiday and came back to find I had moved in. Since then, he blames me for ruining his life and taking away from him his right to sleep in his own home. He has emailed through all kinds of lawsuit research mainly about alimony and aging siblings who decide to split but one wants to sell the house to get back what they put in.

He hasn't paid child maintenance in two years and now claims I am paying it for him out of the rent I owe him for living in his house. This is referring to money I give for home expenses every month.

A UK lawyer we contacted said he had no case for ownership. My partner says the gift was not known to her until the minute the check was put in her hand with a newborn baby in her other arm and a toddler at her feet. I could just imagine his mother thinking she had this all wrapped up and him protesting the loss of "his" money.

The mother is the owner of the money. Partner and her have talked once about it, pretty much to the effect of mother wants to keep a roof over her grandkid's heads.

Frankly, I would buy the house. I have offered her my own money but I can't pay it off all at once. I am actively looking at a second job that night bring in enough commission to pay him off quickly but it feels like he is blackmailing my partner through these messages to force her pay him off instead of taking her to court.

Youngest is now 15. I figure I have three years pay this off or head this off. I don't even know what kind of legal specialist to be looking for. But importantly I need to know how We should be treating this issue from a legal standpoint.
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Mod note: Note: Since this is clearly a "talk to a lawyer" question, please focus on "I don't even know what kind of legal specialist to be looking for" rather than general non-professional opinions about the matter. Thanks.
posted by taz (staff) at 12:30 AM on August 28, 2016 [4 favorites]

Who legally owns the house? Is his name on the deed?

At the very least, you need to contact a family lawyer about the child maintenance - his responsibility to the child cannot be abrogated because he feels you owe him money.

It should go without saying that your partner should not give him any money whatsoever unless your own lawyer tells her to do so.
posted by corb at 12:38 AM on August 28, 2016

First, I would like to address this point: But importantly I need to know how We should be treating this issue from a legal standpoint.

You should both stop making overtures about payment, either to the giver of the money or the father of the children. Deal with that once the legal matters have been settled. In the English law* system, your actions may establish certain things that are not in your long-term best interests ("Why would anonymous have offered to pay unless an obligation to pay existed?").

And now, your second question: I don't even know what kind of legal specialist to be looking for.

For England or Wales, contact the Law Society for a referral. There is also the Law Society of Northern Ireland and the Law Society of Scotland.

You made reference to a "UK lawyer," so I feel compelled to add these words for either yourself if you don't know or others who come across: It is vitally important that you find a solicitor who practices in your area. The United Kingdom has several different legal systems (hence the asterisk above. The English law system is for England and Wales; there is also the Scots law system and common law in Northern Ireland) and you need a professional who deals with the law in your area.
posted by fireoyster at 12:49 AM on August 28, 2016 [17 favorites]


If the house is in her name, and money was given to her by the children's grandmother, it would be the grandmother, not him, who would have a claim over it. And that would only be if, at the time the grandmother gave the money it was understood by all parties that:

- this was intended to be a loan with terms of repayment agreed and known by all; or

- it was the intention that the gift of this money created an interest in the home in favour of the person who gave it - the grandmother - and that this interest could be realised at some point in the future that was known and agreed to by all.

From a legal standpoint, I don't think he has a claim either to a return of the money (which hadn't come from him in the first place) or to any interest in the house.

But it depends on what the agreement was at the time the money was paid over, and whether any of this is in writing.

The child maintenance is a red herring - in the UK the courts see child support as a totally separate issue from property matters.

My inclination would be to tell him he has no right to the money.

You would need to see a solicitor who specialises in Trusts of Land and Appointment of Trustees Act 1996 (TLATA 1996) cases. This Act deals with property issues between unmarried people and is usually covered by the family law specialist in a firm of solicitors. So look for someone on the Law Society's Family Law Panel, and if you make an appointment, specifically ask for someone who has knowledge of TLATA 1996 cases.
posted by essexjan at 1:01 AM on August 28, 2016 [28 favorites]

Also, based on what fireoyster said, my answer above is based on the law in England & Wales.
posted by essexjan at 1:02 AM on August 28, 2016

As this couple were never married, and the issue is not about child custody, I think you need a trusts lawyer rather than a family lawyer. You can find a solicitor using the Law Society search form, and filtering by "houses, property and neighbours" AND "wills and probate". Both will get you solicitors who specialise in private client trusts and chancery problems, which is what this is.
posted by Aravis76 at 2:52 AM on August 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

If your partner wholly owns the house, I don't think you even need to bother with a lawyer, I don't see that he has a leg to stand on here. Person A gave person B a gift of £30k to pay of her mortgage. Presumably that was what the money was used for? Person C has no claim to that money. The fact that Person A is C's mother and that the money given to B has reduced his "inheritance" is irrelevant. That money was never his and his mother is still living so he has no right to his inheritance yet anyway.

If the house is jointly owned and his name is on the deed then you do need to speak to a lawyer because although he has no claim to the money his mother gifted your partner, he does have a claim to the property. It is technically his house.

He owes child support for those 2 years. You are not paying his child support. That just isn't a thing here, even if you two were married, he'd still be on the hook for child support for his children. I assume they had a private agreement if he's been able to get away with just not paying it for 2 years, she'd have to take him to court to get back payment but she can go to the child maintenance service to arrange statutory child maintenance payments going forward and they will ensure that he pays and take the necessary action if he doesn't.

For both these issues I believe you need to speak to someone specializing in Family Law, the situation is a little more nuanced that a straight up property dispute.

You may also find this useful
posted by missmagenta at 3:08 AM on August 28, 2016

IIAUKL - specifically, I am a barrister qualified to practise law in England and Wales, and I one of my main areas of work is in this sort of dispute. (Again though, I Am Not Your Lawyer and This Is Not Legal Advice).

essexjan has said pretty much what I would say on this. There are some further questions that a lawyer is likely to ask and having the answers would help a lot.

It sounds as if your partner and Ex were never married - is this correct? It makes an enormous difference in English law, as the money and property affairs of separating couples are treated very differently depending on whether they were legally married under English law or not. (Yes, this is not fair, and there are regular proposals to change the law, but that is how it is at the moment).

Who is the legal owner of the house? This will be recorded on the Land Registry title entry for the house. If you don't have a copy, you can download this from the Land Registry for £3. It will record who is the legal owner. Is it your partner, or your partner and your Ex jointly?

Even if the house is listed as owned just by your partner, does anyone else have an interest in the it? This is a wider concept than just 'ownership'. For instance, if someone contributes to the price of a property they might agree with the legal owner that they have what lawyers call a 'beneficial interest' in the property and might file an entry on the Land Registry title to note this, so that anyone looking to buy the property knows that someone else has a claim on part of its value.

Finding out about this is where you may need legal help, because there are various ways an interest in property can be created or can arise. The most straightforward is where it is recorded when the property is purchased, by means of declaration on the paperwork sent to the Land Registry. In other cases (and these are the ones that tend to have to be resolved in court) it might happen because there was an agreement to share beneficial interest supported by clear evidence of funding.

I am going to be very careful in commenting on this case because I don't have all the facts (and again IANYL and TINLA) but I agree with essexjan that on the face of it the only person who seems possibly able to be able to assert an interest in the property would be the grandmother. Even if there had been an agreement that the money was loaned and was then to go to the Ex, that would need to have been very carefully set up to give the Ex any rights.

Finally, there is a practical point. If the Ex is not a legal owner of the property but thinks he has some kind of interest in it or right to money in it then he is the one who is going to have to go to court to prove that. I suspect he has not had proper legal advice on this, because if he does he is likely to be told that a claim in the County Court for £30,000 (either as a property interest or as some sort of debt) is going to cost him a fair chunk of that in legal costs and court fees to run. In England, very few lawyers will do that sort of work on a no-win, no-fee basis. Also, English costs rules would apply, meaning that if he sues you and loses, he would almost certainly be ordered to pay you for your own legal costs.

The advice to find a solicitor who deals with trusts and family law is good. You can use the Law Society search service as other have noted. This may get a lot of results depending on where you live, and my advice would generally be to go for firms with several lawyers listed as working for them rather than just one or two. (There are some very good firms with only one or two lawyers but equally some very small firms will take anything, irrespective of whether they actually specialise in it, just to get the work, and it can be hard to tell them apart.)
posted by Major Clanger at 3:08 AM on August 28, 2016 [16 favorites]

Oh, a further thing to check when talking to a lawyer you might be looking to seek advice from is to ask if they do a free initial consultation. A lot do, or limit the cost to a fairly small fee for an initial discussion.

Again, having as much information as you can on matters such as who is recorded as actually owning the house can help make best use of a free or cheap initial consultation.
posted by Major Clanger at 3:11 AM on August 28, 2016 [4 favorites]

Obviously, listen to Major Clanger. However, as someone who litigates in a different common law jurisdiction, please be careful about how you describe this issue in writing or, better, don't write about it at all at least until you've received legal counsel. An off-hand reference to the ex-partner's mom being the "owner" of the money in an email could get twisted into an argument that your side admitted the money wasn't a gift, for example.
posted by Alluring Mouthbreather at 7:07 AM on August 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

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