Your housing rights when you separate

Date last updated: 19 October 2017

What are my rights if I separate from my partner or spouse?

Understand what your ‘home rights’ as a single parent are with this interactive graphic.

Know your housing rights

Your housing rights will depend on what type of housing you live in, and whether you are married or in a civil partnership, or cohabiting when the relationship ends.

If your ex-partner is violent and refuses to leave the home, you can apply for a court order to help you to stay in the home and make your ex-partner leave. This is called an occupation order. Get legal advice from a solicitor, who can help you apply. You can also call the National Domestic Violence Helpline for further advice.

There is additional information in our factsheet Housing options for single parents. For specialist housing advice contact Shelter.

If the home is owned or mortgaged

The following information applies if your home is mortgaged or owned outright. You may have a financial interest in the property even if your name is not on the title deeds or registered as an owner in the Land Register.

If you and your ex-partner cannot agree in the long term you can use mediation, arbitration or the legal system. You can find further information about your options in our factsheet Help when you can’t agree.

You own the home jointly with your ex-partner

Whether you are married, in a civil partnership, or cohabiting, both you and your ex-partner have a right to stay in the home, as you are both legal owners. You both also have the right to return to the property, even if you have agreed that one of you will leave. If you have been excluded from the home, you can ask a court to enforce your right to return, unless a court has already made an order to prevent you from being in the home.

There are two different types of joint ownership – ‘joint tenants’ and ‘tenants in common’:

  • Joint tenants do not have a specific share and instead both own the whole property jointly.
  • Tenants in common each have a specific share in the property which may be equal or different to the other person’s share.

You should check what type of joint ownership you have. If you are joint tenants, the whole property would pass to the other joint tenant if one joint tenant dies. In contrast, if you are tenants in common, you are each able to choose to leave your specific share of the property to whoever you want to by making or altering a will. If you are joint tenants, you may wish to seek legal advice about changing this to tenants in common if you don’t want the whole property to pass to your ex-partner in the event of your death.

See the factsheet Getting legal help for more information about how to get legal advice. Also see further down in this factsheet for information about making or altering a will.

Your ex-partner owns the home, and your name is not on the title deeds or registered as an owner in the Land Register

You’re married or in a civil partnership

You have ‘home rights’ which give you a right to stay in the home. You need to take action to prevent your ex-partner from selling or mortgaging the property without your knowledge. You should register your home rights by contacting the Land Registry. You can find more information about registering your home rights on the gov.uk website

You’re not married or in a civil partnership

You do not have an automatic right to remain in the home. You may be able to apply for a court order that allows you to stay in the home for your child’s benefit. In addition, you may, in certain situations, have an interest in the property. This may be the case if you had contributed toward the cost of the home, or that the intention of you and your ex-partner was that it was your property too. This is a very complicated area of law, and you will need specialist legal advice if you think this may apply to you.

You own the home, and your ex-partner’s name is not on the title deeds or registered as an owner in the Land Register

You’re married or in a civil-partnership

Your ex-partner will have ’home rights’ which give them a right to stay in the home. You cannot make your ex-partner leave the property if they don’t agree to go. If you and your ex-partner cannot agree you can use mediation, arbitration or the legal system.

You’re not married or in a civil partnership

Your ex-partner does not have an automatic right to stay in the home, and you can ask them to leave, as long as you give them reasonable notice. If your ex-partner has made a financial contribution to the home, or you previously agreed with them that they had a stake in the property then they may be able to claim an interest in the property. It is up to your ex-partner to prove this.

If your home is rented

The following information applies if your home is rented.

You have a joint tenancy with your ex-partner

Whether you are married, in a civil-partnership or cohabiting, you have a right to stay in the home, and the court can enforce this right.

If your ex-partner gives the landlord notice that they intend to leave the property, this may also end your tenancy. Your landlord may agree to transfer the tenancy to your name only. If your ex-partner leaves and refuses to pay the rent, you are liable to pay all the rent and any arrears owing, even though you are joint tenants. Check if you’re entitled to housing benefit to help with the cost of the rent – see here.

A court can make an order to allocate the tenancy (whether it is with a private landlord, council, or housing association) to one of the tenants. The order is likely to be in favour of the person who has the children living with them most of the time.

Your tenancy is just in your ex-partner’s name

You’re married or in a civil-partnership

You will have ‘home rights’ which give you a right to stay in the home. A court could order that the tenancy is transferred into your name on divorce or dissolution of the civil-partnership.

You’re not married or in a civil-partnership

You do not have an automatic right to stay in the home unless a court order is made. You can apply to the court for a tenancy to be transferred into your name if it would benefit the children. You will need legal advice to do this. If you have to leave the property, you can apply for housing from your local council as a homeless family.

Your tenancy is just in your name

 

You’re married or in a civil partnership

Your ex-partner will have ‘home rights’ which give them a right to stay in the home. You cannot make your ex-partner leave the property if they don’t agree to go. It will be a matter of negotiation and you may need legal advice.

You’re not married or in a civil partnership

Your ex-partner does not have an automatic right to stay in the home, and you can ask them to leave, as long as you give reasonable notice.

You’re considering leaving the home

You should think about where you will live over the following months and years, not just in the immediate future. Unless you need to leave the home urgently because there is a risk of violence, get advice about your rights before you leave.

Can I afford to stay?

Once you have found out what rights you have to stay in the home, you need to consider if it’s affordable. You might assume that you can’t afford to make a mortgage payment by yourself, or that you won’t be able to cover the rent alone. Make sure you check everything that you are entitled to before deciding whether you can or can’t afford to stay, as you may be eligible for help. Call the Gingerbread Single Parent Helpline for a benefits check and to discuss child maintenance.

What if we can’t agree?

If you and your ex-partner find it difficult to reach agreement about the family home, read the factsheets Help when you can’t agree and Getting legal help for information on your options. Resolution also provides information about alternatives to court.

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