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Relationship Breakdown and Housing

This section provides basic advice and information for people who are going through relationship breakdown. Your long term right to remain in the family home will depend on whether or not you are married to your partner or have a registered civil partnership and on the present legal rights of each of you to the home.

If you live in rented property

If your name is on the tenancy agreement, either as a joint tenant or as a sole tenant, you have a contractual and legal right to live in the property. If your name is not on the tenancy agreement, your rights to live in the property once you and your partner have split up will depend on your relationship status.

If you are married or in a registered civil partnership, you have the same right to occupy the home as your spouse, even if you are not legally a sole or joint tenant. Neither you or your spouse can be evicted from your home without a court order. You may be able to ask the court to grant an occupation order to allow you to remain in the home until divorce, and to transfer the tenancy to you after divorce. You should get legal advice about this early on.

It is often possible, either by agreement between you and your former partner or by court order, for a home to be transferred from joint names to one sole name. This is especially likely in cases where the transfer is to allow children to live in the home.

If you and your ex-partner were not married (or in a civil partnership)

Many people assume that if you live together, you have the same rights as a married couple. However, this is not the case. If you live together, but your name is not on the tenancy agreement, you won't automatically be able to stay in the home if your partner wants you to leave, even if you have children.
If you have been or are living together (heterosexual couples only) and have children, you may be able to apply to court for a transfer of the tenancy under the Children Act. Even if you do not have children and are not a tenant, you can apply for an occupation order allowing you to remain in the home in the same way as a married non-tenant. The order may last for up to six months and be renewed for another six months only. Lesbian and gay couples are not included in the legal definition of a cohabitant so will only have rights if they are the joint or sole tenant.

If your partner moves out and is no longer using the accommodation as their only or main home, the tenancy conditions will be broken and the landlord can end the tenancy and evict you, unless you have an occupation order.

Occupation order

If you would like to stay in the home, you will need to go to court to apply for an occupation order. In the meantime, you can continue to pay the rent yourself. You may be able to get housing benefit to help with this, even if your name is not on the tenancy agreement. Your landlord does not have to accept rent from you if you aren't an official tenant and you don't have an occupation order. Speak to your landlord if you're in this position and see if you can get the tenancy transferred into your name.

If you obtain an occupation order from the court you have a right to stay on in the home after your partner has moved out, even if your name is not on the tenancy agreement. If your landlord wants you to leave, they will have to go through the official eviction procedure for your tenancy type and get a court order to remove you. You will have a right to stay in the home as long as your occupation order lasts. During this time, you can take steps to get the tenancy transferred into your name. An occupation order lasts initially for up to six months, after which time you'll need to apply to the court to get your rights renewed for up to another six months, which is the maximum for cohabitants.

If your name is not on the tenancy agreement and you don't have an occupation order granted, you won't have a right to stay on in the home after you and your partner have split up and they have moved out.

Owner occupiers

If you are married, or in a registered civil partnership, you have matrimonial home rights which prevent your partner from evicting you from the home without a court order, whether or not you are legally the owner or joint owner of the property. The property cannot be sold without your consent, although you will need to register an interest in it through a solicitor to prevent this. The court has power to grant an occupation order to the partner who does not legally own the home for as long as it sees fit, whether or not violence has taken place.

If you are living/cohabiting with your partner, your rights to remain in the home vary according to various factors. If you bought and own the home jointly, then regardless of whether you are heterosexual, gay or lesbian or have children, you can apply to the court for an occupation order in the same way as a married couple. If your partner is the sole owner of the property you have no automatic right to remain, but may apply to the court for an occupation order giving temporary rights to remain (this does not apply to gay or lesbian non-owners). If you have a child from the relationship, the court has power under the Children Act 1989 to transfer ownership or allow one partner occupation of the home if it is in the interests of the child.

Legal Aid

In the event of a relationship breakdown, people may be worried about how they are going to pay for legal advice or representation to apply for court orders, make a separation legal or secure a financial settlement. The Legal Help scheme can pay for the cost of your solicitor writing letters and negotiating on your behalf. Under the scheme, you can get up to two hours' worth of advice and help from a solicitor. For matrimonial cases, the limit is three hours work and in all cases the solicitor can extend the amount of time spent working on your case, in some circumstances by up to five hours. Your solicitor will work out whether your income is low enough to qualify for help under this scheme. In addition, many solicitors also operate a free or low-cost interview scheme where anyone, regardless of their income, can get limited advice.

Domestic violence

If you are experiencing domestic violence or abuse, get help quickly. Call the police or the Women's Aid helpline. Experienced and helpful people will deal with your situation sympathetically.

In some cases of domestic violence the courts will be involved, either through the police or through you. The courts have powers that could help protect you and your family. These include:

  • non-molestation or personal protection orders. These orders are intended to stop a person from pestering, threatening or being violent toward another person or child. The power of arrest can be attached to the order if the courts think it is necessary
     
  • occupation orders. These can enforce the right for you to remain living in the home, allow you back into the home if you have been ejected, make the perpetrator leave the home or restrict them to an area of it. The perpetrator can also be ordered not to come within a set distance of the home.

If the courts grant any form of order you should obtain a copy. You can then show this to the police if the order is broken.
 

It is vital to get advice as early as possible, even if things are only looking bad or are in their early stages.
 

Our housing options and homelessness prevention team can help to advise you on your housing options. We may be able to help you to remain safely in your home. We can discuss what additional security could be provided to make you feel safer or we can give you advice about alternative accommodation if you do not feel safe staying in the home.

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