Pettitt v. Pettitt

Pettitt v. Pettitt

[1970] A.C. 777.

House of Lords

Legal title to the matrimonial home was vested in the wife alone. The husband had made substantial improvements, but the House of Lords held that he had no interest. Lord Upjohn seemed to think that improvements would never give rise to interest in the absence of (presumably) express agreement. Other judgments, and in particular Lord Reid, less clear, but Lord Reid thought improvements here insufficiently substantial.

The husband advanced an argument based on s. 17 of the Married Women's Property Act 1882:

"In any question between husband and wife as to the title to or possession of property, either party ... may apply by summons or otherwise in a summary way to any judge of the High Court of Justice ... and the judge ... may make such order with respect to the property in dispute ... as he thinks fit ..."


(a) S. 17 of the 1882 Act gives the courts no discretion to vary the property rights of the parties established on ordinary equitable principles.

(b) Married couples are to be treated no differently from anybody else.

(c) Though Lord Reid expresses doubt, it appears that improving a property, unlike contribution to the purchase price, will not generally give rise to an equitable interest in it.

(d) The presumptions of advancement have little if any application to this area of law. But see further McGrath v. Wallis and Tribe v. Tribe.

(e) Legislative reaction was the Matrimonial Proceedings and Property Act 1970, s. 37 - which applies only to married couples and fiancees.

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