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Greenfield v Greenfield (1979) 39 P & CR 570, ChD

Joint Tenants – Severance of Joint Tenancy – Mutual Agreement – Course of Conduct

Facts

Two brothers purchased a house together, and made an express statement that they would be holding the land as joint tenants.  Both got married and moved their wives into the house shared between them.  For convenience and privacy, the brothers physically divided the house between them building a wall and each occupied one part of the house.  When one of the brothers died, the surviving brother evicted his brother’s widow.  The widow claimed that the brothers’ joint tenancy had been severed by the partitioning of the house and that this amounted to a course of conduct showing an intention to sever the joint tenancy.

Issues

Was the partitioning of the house sufficient to amount to a course of conduct indicating that the joint tenants had intended to sever their joint tenancy and become tenants in common instead?

Held

The joint tenancy had not been severed.  The surviving brother retained his right to survivorship and was entitled to evict his brother’s widow.  Whilst the brothers had indeed separated the property physically, this was insufficient to amount to a course of conduct that amounted to a clear suggestion that the brothers had intended to sever their joint tenancy.  The physical separation of the property had been done for the sake of convenience, and was not in itself enough to overcome the clear express statement that the brothers had made in providing that they were joint tenants.  The parties were aware of the doctrine of survivorship, and mere physical separation did not imply an intention that this was to be disregarded and the rights of a joint tenant surrendered.


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