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:-

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 has children.

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 family law.

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.

Warning

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.