Things to know when leaving a joint ownership property

Posted 24 February 2016 by Keith Osborne

Having joint ownership of a home can be a major part of being in a relationship. Yet, what happens if that relationship breaks down? What happens to the property you bought together?

Parallel to the emotional wrench of a broken relationship is the practical need to re-organise property ownership. Though it may not be the top priority for many, it's vital that the process in undertaken in the legally correct manner.

What should I do first?

You should inform your mortgage lender that your relationship has ended. The prospect of one or both of you leaving a joint ownership property means you may have also have to inform organisations such as the tax office, insurance company (if you have a joint policy) and your bank (if you have a joint account). 

Find out what type of joint ownership you have

You can either have joint ownership of a property as 'tenants in common' or 'joint tenants'. If you are tenants in common then you own different shares in the property. As joint tenants you have equal rights to the property. This status you have as part of joint ownership affects what you can and cannot do when leaving a joint ownership. You can check what type of joint ownership you have by checking the lease or other documents such as the trust deed. At any time, you can change your status from joint tenants to tenants in common or vice versa without any fee being charged. 

A separation agreement

As it suggests, this is an agreement between a couple who are separating. As part of this agreement should be a decision about what you're doing with the joint ownership property. Having a written agreement like this at the beginning can make things a lot clearer and easier further down the line. 

What rights do I have?

If you're the one leaving a joint ownership property, you should, first of all, try and ensure you have the right to go back to the property if you ever wish to do so. However, if a relationship breaks down, both have a right to stay in the property. You can't make the other person leave, and you can't sell the property without the consent of the other. One person can't raise a mortgage or loan against the home unless they have the written consent and signature of their partner. 

Your partner and yourself should discuss whether you both want to sell the home. In the case of disagreement, one party can go to court to try and force the sale of the property. The proceeds of the sale would be split between the two parties. Where agreement can't be reached the court can use its powers to find a reasonable solution. This includes changing the ownership of the property or changing how much each person owns of the property. 

Children being involved

If there are children involved, then the court could order that the property is transferred to the parent who is looking after the children. 

Paying the mortgage

If the mortgage is in both names then you're both equally and solely liable to pay the mortgage. This means if one of you leaves and doesn't pay their share of the mortgage, the other party is liable to pay the full amount. Naturally, not to pay the mortgage, means you could get evicted. As such, it's always best to get additional legal advice from your solicitor or from an organisation such as the Citizens Advice Bureau.

While this is a general guide for the UK as a whole, it should be noted that there are differences between the law in England and Wales and that in Scotland. 


Click here to see your activities