For most of us, our home is our most valuable asset and knowing we have a safe place to live is crucial to our sense of stability. As a result, the question ‘My partner owns the house – what rights do I have?’ is one of the most commonly asked of our family solicitors. The issue becomes particularly pressing when cracks appear in a relationship; the intense stress caused by a breakup is often exacerbated if the separation will also disrupt your living arrangements.
The position depends on whether you and your partner are legally joined – by marriage or through a civil partnership – or if you live together as ‘cohabitees’. Contrary to popular belief, the concept of a ‘common law marriage’ is not recognised under English law, and the legal position of unmarried couples is starkly different from that enjoyed by their married counterparts and civil partners.
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I Am Married Or In A Civil Partnership, And My Partner Owns The House – What Rights Do I Have?
The house where spouses or civil partners habitually reside is known as the matrimonial home. Often, the matrimonial home is owned by both partners, in which case what happens to it when the couple separate depends on a variety of factors, the most pertinent being whether or not they have children. The house might be sold and the profits split, one partner might buy the other’s share, or one might remain in the house until a specific event occurs, often the children of the marriage turning 18, at which point it is sold.
Sometimes, the matrimonial home is owned by one partner in their sole name. This might be to protect it from creditors, or one partner might have a poor credit rating that affects their ability to obtain a mortgage. In these cases, the question of the non-owning partner’s rights becomes even more compelling.
The starting point is that spouses or civil partners who do not legally own the matrimonial home are legally protected by rights known as ‘home rights’. Home rights allow the non-owning partner to live in the matrimonial home, and they cannot be forced to leave unless the owner obtains an ‘occupation order’ from the Court. Home rights do not last forever; if the couple separate, the rights terminate once the divorce or dissolution is complete. Of course, as part of the settlement, the parties may agree that the non-owning partner should remain in the home, usually to provide stability for any children, or the Court may make an Order along those lines. In any event, divorce or dissolution settlements usually ensure that both parties’ needs are sufficiently catered for.
Whilst home rights arise automatically, you must register them at the Land Registry to fully protect your position. Once you have done so, your spouse or civil partner cannot sell or mortgage the matrimonial home without your consent.
If you require help registering your home rights or with any other issue relating to matrimonial home ownership, speak to us. Our family law solicitors have vast experience helping clients to protect their rights and those of their family, both during their marriage or civil partnership and in the unfortunate event of a divorce or dissolution.
I Am Not Married Or In A Civil Partnership, And My Partner Owns The House – What Rights Do I Have?
Unlike spouses or civil partners, couples who live together have no ongoing obligations towards each other when their relationship ends, regardless of the length of time for which they were together. The Matrimonial Homes Legislation, which provides the home rights enjoyed by spouses and civil partners, does not apply to unmarried couples. So, if you and your partner are not married or in a civil partnership, you have no automatic right over any property that has been treated, for all intents and purposes, as the ‘matrimonial home’ for the duration of your relationship.
This issue is addressed, to some extent, by the Trusts of Land and Appointment of Trustees Act, commonly known as ‘TOLATA’. TOLATA can help unmarried partners who do not legally own their home to assert rights over it on the basis of beneficial ownership.
TOLATA claims can be legally and procedurally complex. The partner bringing the claim must convince the Judge that the parties intended the property to be jointly owned, regardless of the legal position. For example, if you paid the mortgage on the property or funded an extension, the Judge may infer that you and your ex-partner must have considered the property to be owned by you both since it would make no sense for you to have made considerable financial contributions towards a property you had no rights over.
If your TOLATA claim succeeds, the Judge might make one of any number of Orders, including allowing you to live in the property or forcing a sale and dividing the proceeds according to the extent of each party’s ownership.
Our family law solicitors have extensive experience in bringing and defending TOLATA claims. We will explain the law and advise on the merits of your position in clear, straightforward terms. We avoid the time and expense of litigation wherever possible, striving instead to achieve your desired outcome through settlement negotiations and alternative dispute resolution methods such as mediation.
How We Can Help
Our family law experts understand that clients often seek our help during emotionally stressful times. We are friendly and approachable and couple our extensive legal expertise with sensitivity, compassion and a human touch. We deal with all matters swiftly and efficiently, seeking the quickest and most cost-effective resolution available in the circumstances. We will be by your side every step of the way, working tirelessly to obtain the very best outcome for you and your family.
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