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Housing and relationship breakdown

If both partners jointly own the property

If both your name and your partner's name are on the deeds of the property then you are a joint owner. You have a number of very important rights no matter what sort of relationship you are in. These rights are yours automatically and they can only be changed by a court order unless you both agree.

These basic rights are:

  • you and your partner have equal right to live in the property
  • neither of you can be made to leave without a court order
  •  if you or your partner wishes to sell or re-mortgage the property, you both have to agree.
  • If you fail to agree, the property cannot be sold or re-mortgaged without going to court.

If you have a mortgage you will both be liable for payments and you could be asked by your lender to pay the whole amount if your partner stops paying. If the payments are not made your lender may try to repossess the property and try to sell it. If your lender sells the property for less than the amount outstanding on your mortgage you and/or your partner will have to make up the difference. If you are having, or are likely to have problems paying your mortgage you should seek immediate advice in negotiating with your lender and looking at other options. If you and your partner cannot reach some agreement about the property or, in the longer term, you want to rely on more than an informal agreement you should get legal advice and you may have to consider getting a court order.

Court orders

If, in the short term, you cannot agree who will live in the property you can get an occupation order. This will decide who can stay in the property and what happens about the mortgage. An occupation order does not affect your long term rights to the property. In the long term if there remains a dispute over who should stay in the property or whether the property should be sold, you will need specialist legal advice.

The courts can make a variety of decisions about the future of your property. What they decide will depend upon your individual circumstances and whether you are married, cohabitating or have children.

If you are married the court can order:

  • the transfer of the property into one person's name
  • the sale of the property
  • that the partner caring for the children stays in the home
  • that one partner stays in the property and pays rent to the other partner.

The court can also do any of the above if you are a cohabitating couple with children, using the Children Act. Any order made by the court would have to be in the interests of the child/children.

If you are not married and have no children the court has no power to transfer ownership from both of you to one person. However, the court can make an order that the property be sold, that the property must not be sold or make a declaration about its use.

At the court hearing your share of the value of the property will also be set out. Being a joint owner does not automatically mean that you are both entitled to half of the value of the property.

If you are married and getting a divorce the courts will look at your particular circumstances and may decide to give you an increased legal share in the value of the property. If you are not married then the court has no power to do this and it will have to look only at what you agreed when you bought the property.