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Resolving family property disputes
By George Coucounis

The contribution of each one of the spouses in the increase of the family property, irrespective in whose name is registered, even in the name of a third person, defines whether a dispute can be resolved before the Family Court. The manner in which the contribution can be proven directs to the property and its distribution between the spouses according to their contribution or based on the presumption of the law, providing 1/3 of the increase to be given to the beneficiary. Invoking and applying the law of equity and trust is a tool in the hands of the Family Court, which is used together with the other powers given by the law in order to do real justice. The property subject matter of a distribution, either movable or immovable, could have been acquired prior or with the prospect of the marriage or at any time during the marriage by any of the spouses. If the property is registered or possessed by a third person, physical or legal, on account of any of the spouses, the right of contribution allows the spouses to claim it even from the third person, which can be a company and become a litigant in the dispute before the Family Court.

The aforesaid legal parameters were examined by the Supreme Court in a recent judgment, whereby it set aside the decision of the Family Court to suspend the proceedings and refer the dispute before the District Court because the dispute was between a spouse and a company. According to the facts of the case, a family dispute arose between the spouses in separation and a company became a litigant, since the plot upon which the marital house was built was registered in its name. The company belonged to the parents of the wife and the husband claimed, among others, half of the said immovable property, alleging that it was his contribution. The Supreme Court held that the dispute is within the jurisdiction of the Family Court, which has the power to try the claims of the husband even against the company and consequently, it referred the case back to the Family Court for trial. It was decided that the meaning of the contribution in the acquisition of the assets is decisive in referring and resolving the dispute by the Family Court.

The fact that the property asset claimed happens to be registered in the name of a third person or a third person has a claim over it, does not change the classification of the issue as a legal matter. Not only the claim of the asset can be proven as part of the contribution of the spouse in the increase of the asset, but also the person who possesses the asset, legally or not, must become a litigant in order for the dispute to be properly resolved. The property asset or its value can be given to the beneficiary spouse through the issue of an order of the Court. In the particular case, the company purchased the plot before the marriage and it was used with its consent in order to build the marital house. Under the said circumstances, it could not be considered that the Family Court had no jurisdiction because the immovable property remains registered in the name of the company. It was stated that not only the claim comes through the relation of the spouses, but it also begins and ends with their relation.  A different approach would have meant that the contribution of the husband should have been assessed first and thereafter an action should have been raised before the District Court, based on trust or on any other claim for him to receive his share. Such a development would have been undesirable, since the dispute would have to be tried before more than one Court, despite being a family dispute. At the same time, it can be noted that the ability of an applicant to raise his claim through trust or other legal tool would have been overlooked and consequently, the Supreme Court referred the dispute back to the Family Court for trial.

George Coucounis is a lawyer specializing on the Immovable Property Law, Leading Partner in George Coucounis LLC based in Larnaca - Cyprus
www.coucounislaw.com - E-mail: coucounis.law@cytanet.com.cy - Tel: +357-24818288.
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