What Is The Position When One Partner Owns The House UK?
For most people, their house is their most valuable asset. In addition to the obvious financial benefits of owning a property, the houses we live in provide a home for us and our wider family, including our children. As a result, a question regularly asked of our expert family law solicitors is, ‘What is the position when one partner owns the house under UK law?’
The answer depends, to a large extent, on the marital status of the couple. Despite more and more couples choosing to cohabit rather than marry or enter into a civil partnership, the law does not treat unmarried individuals in the same way as it treats spouses or civil partners. Their rights are generally far more limited, including those relating to the property they share with their partner.
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What Is The Position When One Partner Owns The House Under UK Law, And We Are Married?
The social and moral benefits of marriage or civil partnerships are much debated, but the benefits of entering into a legal union in terms of the house you share, are undeniable. Under the Matrimonial Homes legislation, both partners are entitled to remain in the matrimonial home when their marriage or civil partnership breaks down, until their divorce or dissolution has been finalised. The non-owning partner should register their ‘home rights’ against the title of the house at the Land Registry, to prevent their spouse or civil partner from selling it without their permission.
Spouses and civil partners are entitled to a share of their partner’s assets when their relationship ends. The matrimonial home will form part of the parcel of assets to be divided in the financial settlement, regardless of whether it was legally owned jointly or by just one partner.
There is no typical Order when it comes to how the Court will deal with the marital home on the breakdown of a marriage or civil partnership. Each case will turn on its own facts. If the couple have children, the welfare of those children will be the Court’s overriding concern, and any Order in respect of the marital home will be made with their best interests in mind.
The Court will also base its decision on the financial needs of each partner, taking into account matters such as their respective earning potential and their financial contributions to the relationship. Other issues the Court might consider include the ages of the partners, and the length of their marriage or civil partnership.
The Court has a wide discretion when deciding how to deal with the matrimonial home. Examples of the types of Orders a Judge might make include that the property should be sold and the sale proceeds divided. The sale might be postponed until a specified event occurs, such as the couple’s child reaching the age of 18.
Some couples seek to minimise the scope for long, drawn-out legal proceedings if their relationship ends by documenting their intentions regarding the matrimonial home and other assets, before or during their marriage or civil partnership. Pre-nuptial or Post-nuptial Agreements offer a convenient way for couples to discuss and agree on what should happen to their assets when they have clear heads, are able to think clearly and can act reasonably.
What Is The Position When One Partner Owns The House Under UK Law, And We Are Not Married?
The answer to the question ‘What is the position when one partner owns the house under UK law?’ differs significantly when the couple are not married or in a civil partnership. Mere cohabitees have no automatic right to a share of their partner’s assets, including any property. So, if you live with your partner in a house that belongs legally to them, you have no entitlement to remain there, or to claim a share in it, if your relationship ends.
Sometimes, non-owning partners can assert beneficial ownership over the house they share with their partner under a statute called The Trusts of Land and Appointment of Trustees Act 1996, or TOLATA. TOLATA can be used by anyone who claims a beneficial interest in a property, such as parents who have helped their adult child get on the property ladder by putting down a deposit for their first home. The law is, however, most prevalent in cases involving unmarried couples.
An unmarried individual seeking rights over the house they shared with their ex- partner must convince the Court that there had been a mutual intention for the property to be jointly owned, regardless of the legal position and the Title Deeds. To do so, they must produce cogent evidence of that intention. For example, if the non-owning partner paid the mortgage and funded substantial home improvements, a Judge might be convinced that they would not have done so were it not for an understanding that they owned a share of the property.
TOLATA claims are notoriously difficult to prove and legally complex, bringing into play complicated principles of trusts law. Accordingly, if you are unmarried and live with a partner in a house owned solely by them, it is sensible to address the issue head-on at the start of your relationship. By having an open and frank discussion with your partner about what should happen to the family home in the event of a breakup, no matter how uncomfortable, you can save yourself and your family a great deal of acrimony in the future. Your agreement can be documented in a Cohabitation Agreement setting out your joint intentions with regards to how your assets should be divided and other important issues, such as next of kin rights.
How We Can Help
In short, there is no definitive answer to the question, ‘What is the position when one partner owns the house under UK law?’ The answer depends on whether you are married, civil partners or cohabitees, whether any documentation exists that might be relevant to the question, and your intentions with regard to the house. It can often help to speak to a family law solicitor to understand your legal position and ascertain whether you and your partner should put in place Agreements to protect your and your children’s positions and clarify what should happen if your relationship ends. If your relationship has already ended, the support of an expert family solicitor is invaluable in ensuring a fair outcome that allows you to face the future in the best possible position.
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