Divorce and separation are complex and emotionally challenging, especially when they involve property, finances, and children.
For the majority of people, the family home is their single most valuable asset. Not to mention a place of safety and security. Therefore, it's important to know what your rights are in relation to property if your marriage or civil partnership has broken down.
In this article, we'll provide a solution-focused guide to understanding matrimonial home rights in the face of marital breakdown including:
What matrimonial home rights are;
Who is entitled to home rights;
How to register them;
When they end.
What are Matrimonial Home Rights?
Matrimonial home rights mean that both you and your spouse or civil partner have a legal right to live in the family home free from forced removal, regardless of whose name the property is in.
Matrimonial home rights are a fundamental legal provision in the United Kingdom and they are protected under the Family Law Act 1996, and they apply whether the property is owned outright, mortgaged, rented, or provided by the local authority.
They are designed to:
Protect the interests of you, spouses and your families during a divorce or separation;
Prevent the sale of the property or any other actions that might leave the non-owning spouse and any children homeless;
Grant the legal right of both parties to live in the family home, no matter who owns the property, unless a court order says otherwise.
While matrimonial rights in the UK give both spouses equal right to stay in the matrimonial home, they do not give ownership rights to the non-owning spouse.
What are home rights for married couples and civil partners?
Married couples and civil partners automatically have matrimonial home
These rights apply to the family home where you both live.
They offer a sense of security during the divorce or legal separation process, making sure that neither party or dependent children are left without a place to live until formal arrangements have been made, especially when the property is in one of your names.
These rights exist even if you or your spouse has moved out of the property due to the divorce, as long as it remains the family home.
When do home rights not apply?
If your spouse or civil partner owns the property with someone else and is not the ‘sole beneficial owner’ home rights do not apply.
If you are not married or in a civil partnership, but are cohabiting, you do not have matrimonial home rights. However you do have options when it comes to your rights in the face of a relationship breakdown.
What is a Home Rights Notice?
It ensures that your rights to live and access the property are officially recognised.
This notice can and should be filed even if the property is solely in your spouse's name, as it prevents them from selling a house or trying to kick you out.
If you have home rights to your spouse’s property, you cannot be legally forced out of the family home and your ex-partner cannot sell or remortgage the property without your consent. These rights will protect you until your divorce, annulment or dissolution is finalised, though in some cases you may be able to apply for a continuation order if there are disputes over the final settlement.
You do not need your spouse’s consent to register your home rights at the property, though the Land Registry will notify your partner that you have done so.
What is a family home in law?
Home rights apply only to the family home. They do not apply to other properties, for example holiday rentals.
In law, the family home is the main property (i.e. house, flat, etc) you live in, or intended to live in, with yor spouse or civil partner.
How to register Matrimonial Home Rights
While matrimonial and home rights are automatic whether you are married or in a civil partnership, it’s really important to officially register these rights at the Land Registry if you are living in a property in your civil partner's or spouse's sole name.
How you do this depends on if the property is registered or unregistered with the land registry.
For Registered Property
If your property is registered with the Land Registry, you can apply to register a notice protecting your rights to occupy the matrimonial or civil partnership home using application form HR1 for registration of a notice of home rights.
At present, all land that is bought, sold, gifted or mortgaged must be registered with the Land Registry. Therefore, if you bought your home after 1990, it is likely your property will be registered.
For Unregistered Property
If you have owned your home since before 1990, and not taken a mortgage since, it’s possible your property is not registered with the Land Registry.
If this is the case, registering your matrimonial home rights may be a little more complicated, and it would be advisable to speak to a family law solicitor about your options.
In many cases, you will have to complete an application for registration of a Class F Land Charge to protect your right to occupy a marital or civil partnership home.
If you don’t know if your property is registered with the Land Registry, a solicitor can contact them to find this out for you.
When do Home Rights end?
Matrimonial home rights come to an end:
On the finalisation of a divorce or the dissolution of a civil partnership (i.e. when you receive a Final Order from the court). However, in some cases matrimonial home rights can be extended with a Continuation Order;
If a court orders it. For example, if you were granted exclusive possession of the family home, your spouse's home rights will be ended, or vice-versa. Court orders can be brought about in cases of domestic abuse with an Occupation Order, or if it is in the best interest of the parties involved. If you are in this situation, it’s wise to seek specialist support to ensure your safety and the safety of any dependent children;
If one spouse dies;
By successfully challenging that Home Rights should never have been registered in the first place. For example, if both parties weren’t legally married, were already divorced abroad, or the property was never used as the family home.
How do I remove a Home Rights Notice?
Removing a Home Rights Notice is a complex process and typically requires a court order. To do so, you will need to demonstrate a valid reason for the removal, such as the cessation (ending) of matrimonial home rights due to divorce, dissolution, or court orders.
Get legal support to protect your Home Rights
Matrimonial home rights are a vital safeguard for divorcing couples in the UK. Divorce is emotionally taxing, and understanding your rights and what your financial entitlement is, especially concerning the family home, is crucial.
If you are going through a divorce and would like more information on your home rights and whether a Home Rights Notice is appropriate, please tell us about your case through our simple form to find out how our expert family solicitors can help you.