Unmarried couples have far fewer rights than married couples when it comes to separation, with no automatic right to make a financial claim against each other.
When a cohabiting couple split up and one of them moves out of their jointly owned home, disputes can arise over issues such as whether the property should be sold, who should pay the mortgage and bills and what shares each party is entitled to.
Can I sell the property?
It is often the case that the person who has left the property wants to sell, while the other person does not. You may be able to negotiate a solution to this, for example, by agreeing that the person remaining in the property will buy out the other party. Where this is not possible, the property will need to be sold.
If one party refuses, then it is open to the other to ask the court to make an order for sale. Where there are no children involved, the court is generally happy to grant this.
What share am I entitled to on the sale of a jointly owned property?
For unmarried couples, there is no right to ask for a larger share of the sale proceeds because one party is in a financially weaker position.
How the sale proceeds are split will depend on the way in which the property is held. If it is owned as tenants in common, then each party will own a specified share. If the property is held as joint tenants, then the parties own the whole property together and you can assume that the proceeds of the sale will be split equally between you on sale.
What happens when one party paid more towards the property purchase?
Where the property is held as joint tenants, but one party put in more by way of a deposit, they are likely to want to claim a larger share of the sale proceeds. The court cannot vary the way in which a property is held or adjust the share each person owned unless one party can demonstrate that it was always the intention of both parties that one of them should own a larger share.
Under the Trusts of Land and Appointment of Trustees Act 1996, also referred to as ToLATA, the court can make decisions as to who has the right to occupy the property and the extent of each party’s ownership. It can also order that the property be sold.
If you are not named on the title deeds to the property, then you would have to demonstrate that there was an agreement between you and your partner that you would be a beneficial owner of the property with them in order to claim a share of the sale proceeds.
A ToLATA claim can be difficult and it is always recommended that those involved try to resolve matters by negotiation wherever possible. If this is not successful, then alternative dispute resolution, such as mediation, can be helpful.
Contact our family law solicitors
Our family law team has experience in dealing with the property rights of unmarried couples and can advise you of your options and the best way to proceed, should you want to sell a jointly owned property. Where necessary, we will represent you to obtain an order for sale.