Anyone involved in a dispute over property, especially if they aren’t married to the (other) owner of the property, may have come across the term ‘TOLATA’. But what does it mean?
As is well known, the law is full of jargon and mysterious terms, seemingly designed to confuse those without a legal education.
But ‘TOLATA’ is nothing more than an acronym, used to avoid the trouble of spelling out what it stands for: the Trusts of Land and Appointment of Trustees Act 1996.
Now, TOLATA contains many complex provisions, but here we will concentrate just on those that are of particular relevance in a family law context, where they are often use to sort out property disputes between unmarried couples.
There are two particular scenarios where couples who cohabit may get into a dispute over property.
The first scenario is relatively simple: the couple jointly own the property in which they live. The relationship breaks down and one party moves out. That party will then want to recover their interest in the property, either by the other party buying their share, or by selling the property and dividing the proceeds.
The second scenario can be more complex. It is where the couple live in a property owned by just one of them, but the other party claims a share in the property. That claim may, for example, be based upon a promise of a share made by the owning party, or upon a contribution made by the non-owning party towards the purchase or improvement of the property. Whatever, when the relationship breaks down the non-owning party may seek to recover their claimed share.
Note that these types of scenario could arise where the parties are married. However, there they would be dealt with as part of a divorce settlement, as the divorce court has the power to adjust ownership of property any way it thinks fit.
But obviously a cohabiting couple have no recourse to a divorce court. They need some other mechanism to sort out their property disputes.
And this is where TOLATA comes in.
Before we go any further, we need to briefly explain just what a ‘trust of land’ is.
Most people believe that the owner of a property will be whoever is stated as the owner on the deeds to the property.
That is true, but the law recognises that someone can have an interest in property without their name appearing on the deeds, for example because of contributions that they have made to the property. In such a situation the true ownership of the property obviously differs from that stated on the deeds.
This is what is referred to as a ‘trust of land’.
The law will refer to the owner(s) stated on the deeds as the owners of the ‘legal estate’, and they are said to hold the property on trust for the true owners, who are said to hold an ‘equitable’, or ‘beneficial’, interest in the property.
Ian Walker Family Law & Mediation Solicitors are award-winning family solicitors and are recognised as one of the leading family law firms in the South West of England with services covering family law & mediation, divorce, child law, and arbitration. For expert advice when is comes to child law involving social services, please contact the team.