Unlike married couples or those in a Civil Partnerships, cohabiting couples do not automatically have financial claims against each other upon separation.

Property rights for unmarried couples differ depending on whether the couple live in rented accommodation or whether they own a property together. In this blog, we look at some of the most common questions cohabitating couples have about their legal rights in respect of property:

Do I have a legal right to remain living in our home if my relationship has broken down?

Rented property

If you are living with your partner in rented accommodation and you are not named in the tenancy agreement, you have no rights to stay in the property if your partner asks you to move out.

However, if the tenancy agreement is in joint names you both have an equal right to stay in the property if your relationship breaks down.

If necessary, it is possible for a court to transfer the tenancy.  For example, you may wish to transfer the joint tenancy into your partner’s sole name.  However, bear in mind that your landlord would have to agree to any change to the tenancy agreement.

Top tip:  Before moving into rented accommodation with your partner, ensure the tenancy agreement is in joint names.

Owned property

If the house you live in is owned by you both, you both have an equal right to remain in the property if your relationship breaks down.

If you are the sole owner of the property only you have the right to remain in the property unless your partner obtains an order from the court that he/she has a right of occupation, known as an Occupation Order (more about this below).However, it is important to understand that your partner may be able to claim a ‘beneficial interest’ in the property.  A ‘beneficial interest’ may give a cohabiting partner who doesn’t own the property the right to:

  • Live in the property
  • A share of the income if the property is rented out
  • A share of the profit of the sale if the property is sold


Occupation Order

In certain circumstances it is possible, as an unmarried partner, to get a court order enabling you to remain (usually temporarily) in the property. This has to be done through court proceedings.

Am I entitled to half the house if we aren’t married?

The starting point is to look at how the property is owned.

If the property is owned jointly:

If you own the property jointly then the first thing to do is to establish if it is owned as Joint Tenants or as Tenants in Common. This can usually be established fairly easily and cheaply by obtaining documents from the Land Registry.

Joint Tenants – If you own the property as Joint Tenants then you do not own shares in it but are considered to be joint and equal owners. Therefore, the presumption is that you each own the property equally.

Tenants in Common – If you own the property as Tenants in Common then you each own shares in the property. These shares can be owned equally, e.g. 50/50, or not, e.g. 70/30.  If you own the property in non-equal shares then this would normally be evidenced by a document called a Declaration of Trust. If there is no evidence regarding the shares then there is a presumption that you will own the property in equal shares e.g. 50/50.

In some circumstances it is possible to show that a subsequent agreement between the couple needs to be considered – for example that although on the face of it the property is owned equally there is a reason why this is not the case.

These claims are fact specific and can be difficult to establish. The onus will be upon the person trying to show that a subsequent agreement should be taken into account to demonstrate this.

If the property is owned in one person’s sole name:

If the property is owned in your partner’s sole name there may still be a document confirming that you have an interest in it.  Again, this would normally be in the form of a Declaration of Trust.

If there is no Declaration of Trust you may still be able to show that you should have an interest in the property if you can demonstrate that:

  • There was a common intention between you that you would have an interest in the property and you have acted to your detriment in reliance of this.

Or

  • You were led to believe by your partner that you had a beneficial interest and as a consequence of this you acted to their detriment.

In other words you would, in most cases, have to prove that following an injection of capital/cash into the property you did so believing that there was an agreement or understanding that this was in return for a beneficial interest in the property and therefore you expect to receive this capital back when the relationship breaks down.

Top tip:  Before buying a property together or injecting capital/cash into a property that you owned jointly with your partner (or that is held in your partner’s sole name), make sure that you have an open discussion about whether it is intended that you will acquire a beneficial interest, or an increased beneficial interest, as a result.  Always seek legal advice from an expert beforehand.

Our specialist Cohabitation Team are experts in assisting unmarried couples when a separation occurs. As we have seen in this blog, setting up property ownership in the right way can prevent disputes in the future, and protect your legal rights in case the relationship does break down in the future. Please contact us to discuss your unique circumstances.

Are you unmarried and separating from your partner?

Want to know what your property rights are?

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2 responses to “Property rights for unmarried couples

  1. I split up with my childrens father in May 2018. He moved out for a few months, but had to move back into our property because he got himself into debt. I would like to know if i have any legal rights to get him to move out again, or would we have to sell to get out of this uncomfortable situation.
    We were together 20 years and have 2 children together (10 and 15 years old)
    Also, if we did have to sell, what percentage of the house sale would he be entitled to? I would be the one caring for our children.

    1. Thank you for your comment Nadina. If the property is held in your sole legal name, your former partner (I assume that you are not married) has no automatic right of occupation; you could request that he move out now. If the property is held in your joint legal names, the only way to force your former partner to move out of the property would be to obtain an Occupation Order from the court. Jointly owned property can only be sold if you both agree to the sale or if you obtain an order for sale from the court. If the property was to be sold then how the net proceeds of sale are distributed depends on a number of factors including the terms of any Declaration of Trust that you both entered into either at the time of purchase of subsequent to the purchase, your respective contributions to the purchase price, mortgage repayments and/or any major renovation works undertaken to the property. The fact that you have children together who are under 18 years old, may only be relevant if you wish to claim that the property should either be transferred to you (joint ownership only) or else the sale of the property deferred to allow you to care for the children; however, such applications can be difficult and expensive to argue. I recommend that you obtain some independent legal advice from a specialist family solicitor.

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