Housing rights when a relationship breaks down.
This document is intended to act as a general guide to rights when a relationship
breaks down. If you are in this situation then we recommend that you consult
a solicitor on this matter.
What this document covers
This document covers what happens to the home on a long-term basis when a
relationship has broken down. It includes information on owner-occupied property
and rented accommodation. It does not cover short-term housing options for
clients who need advice on immediate action in a relationship breakdown situation.
This document does not cover how a couple can set up a home and share rented
accommodation or owner-occupied property.
Who this document covers
This document covers married couples, civil partners and cohabitants.
The document does not cover other groups of people who share accommodation,
for example, friends and relatives.
How long-term rights to housing are established
The following people may have, or may be able to acquire by going to court,
long-term rights to occupy the home and/or a financial interest in the home
following a relationship breakdown:-
- a married couple or civil partners who live or have lived in a property
owned by one or both of them
- a married couple, civil partners or cohabitants who live or have lived
in rented accommodation where one or both of them is the legal tenant
- any couple who have rights to the home under housing law, for example,
because they are tenants or joint tenants
- any couple who have rights under property law, for example, because they
are owners or joint owners or because they have a beneficial interest.
If someone is not in one of the groups set out above, s/he will not have
any long-term rights to stay in the home. S/he will have no right to a proportion
of the proceeds if an owner-occupied home is sold. However, there may be other
housing options for the client if s/he cannot stay in the home s/he shares
or used to share with her/his partner.
Rights of all couples
If a person is an owner-occupier or a tenant, s/he will have rights under
housing and property law, including the right to occupy the home. If a couple
have joint legal ownership, each owner has these rights.
A person may also have other rights which override housing and property
law, depending on whether s/he is married, a civil partner, cohabiting and/or
Rights of married couples and civil partners
A spouse can have her/his home dealt with under matrimonial or family law.
A civil partner can have her/his home dealt with under civil partnership or
The courts have the power to transfer owner-occupied property and tenancies.
Married couples and civil partners have other rights, including short-term
rights of occupation regardless of ownership and tenancy status.
Spouses and civil partners whose relationship has ended
A spouse who has obtained a decree of divorce or a decree of nullity of
marriage (whether or not the decree is absolute), or a spouse who has obtained
a decree of judicial separation, can apply to court for a transfer of tenancy.
A civil partner who has obtained a dissolution order, a nullity order or a
separation order can apply to court for a transfer of tenancy.
Former spouses and civil partners cannot apply to a court for the transfer
of owner-occupied property.
Rights of cohabitants
Cohabitants, former cohabitants, former civil partners and former spouses
can apply to a court for a transfer of tenancy. They cannot apply for a transfer
of owner-occupied property.
Cohabitants, former civil partners and former spouses also have short-term
rights to occupy the home.
Rights of couples with children
Married parents, parents who are civil partners, step-parents, or unmarried
parents who are both the biological parents of a child can apply to a court
for transfer of property or tenancies if this is for the benefit of children.
A guardian of a child or anyone in whose favour a court has made a residence
order can also do this.
Rights under matrimonial law, civil partnership law and family law override
rights under housing law. For example, a client may be married to someone
who is a sole tenant. Even though s/he does not have rights under housing
law, the tenancy could be transferred to her/him during divorce proceedings.
This is a complex area of law and specialist advice should be sought if you
believe this affects you.