The breakup of a relationship is often painful. But it’s made even more complicated when a shared home and joint assets are involved. For many couples, the path of least resistance is to sell the family home and divide the proceeds. However, the legalities around this are often unclear, especially for unmarried couples.
This guide outlines the key considerations around selling the family home during a separation. It aims to clarify your legal standing and suggest practical tips for making the sale process conflict-free. With foresight and cooperation, selling up can represent a fresh start for both parties.
Why Do Couples Sell the Family Home During Separation?
When a relationship breaks down, one of the most difficult decisions can be what to do with the family home. Selling the home you once shared can help both parties move on and prevent arguments over who gets to live there. There are a few key reasons why couples may opt to sell during separation:
- To divide assets: Selling the home and splitting the profits is often seen as the fairest way to split this significant asset. This avoids ongoing disputes over who keeps the house.
- Neither party can afford payments: Selling may be the only option if the mortgage and bills are only affordable jointly.
- Downsizing requirements: One person staying in a large family home may be impractical. Selling creates funds to buy smaller properties.
- Fresh start: Emotionally, a new home can represent a fresh start after separation. Remaining in the same property may prolong hurt.
While undoubtedly difficult, selling the family home amicably can remove stress and enable both parties to progress in new chapters of their lives. It also tends to be easier if you sell your house fast.
Will I Get 50% of the Family House?
When relationships break down, there is no automatic entitlement to 50% of a family home. How proceeds are divided depends on your legal situation:
- Married: Assets built up during the marriage are considered joint ‘matrimonial assets’. These are divided equitably, often around 50/50.
- Cohabiting: No automatic rights to share a property’s value. However, you may have a ‘beneficial interest’ if you contributed to the mortgage or bills.
- Joint mortgages/ownership: A jointly owned home is usually sold and proceeds divided equally, subject to who provided the deposit.
- Sole ownership: If your ex-partner wholly owns the house, you have no direct entitlement. But contributions may be taken into account.
In reality, legal ownership does not always dictate practical solutions. Many couples agree to a fair split, taking into account the dependencies of any children involved.
What is Cohabiting?
‘Cohabiting’ means living together in an intimate relationship without being married. Around 3.4 million UK couples currently cohabit.
Despite living together as a family, cohabiting couples do not enjoy the same legal rights as married partners in the event of separation. However, cohabiting rights are an evolving area – recent cases have enforced financial claims where one party was disadvantaged.
When is a Cohabiting Agreement Useful?
Cohabiting agreements set out ownership rights and responsibilities if a couple separates. They aim to avoid disputes down the line.
Critical times to consider a cohabiting agreement are as follows:
- Moving in together: Sets expectations from the outset on home ownership and bills when living together.
- Buying a home: Defines who owns what share of the property and your rights if you separate.
- Making large joint purchases: Details shared responsibilities for mortgages, investments or debts.
- Prior relationship breakdown: After previous disputes, an agreement provides security for the future.
- Significant income disparity: Ensures the lower earner would be compensated for financially if separating.
- Inherited assets: Protects assets you bring into the relationship from future claims.
Cohabiting agreements carry more weight if both parties have taken proper legal advice.
Legal Considerations Around Cohabiting Relationships
The rise in cohabiting relationships means more couples require clarity on their legal standing. Some key considerations include:
- Unrecognised rights: Cohabiting does not provide automatic rights to share property or finances if you separate. Many couples who cohabitate are unaware of this.
- Protection for children: Whilst parents must provide for kids, cohabiting does not confer child maintenance responsibilities.
- Vulnerable parties: Recent case law expands rights for financially weaker ex-cohabiting partners. But the law is still catching up.
- Inheritance claims: Cohabiting does not entitle you to inherit your partner’s estate without a will. Marriage overrides this.
Seeking legal advice is wise to understand where you stand as an unmarried couple living together or purchasing a house together. Steps like drafting wills or setting up joint ownership of assets can help protect your position.
Additional Considerations When Selling the Family Home
Selling a long-term family home is always multi-dimensional. As well as the legal and financial considerations, there are also emotional factors to manage.
A home where you raised your children and made happy memories holds enormous sentimental value. It can be painful to sell this up. However, focus on the positives – the sale enables you to move forward and provides capital for new beginnings.
Impact on Children
Moving house is unsettling for children, too. Where possible, involve them in critical decisions and consider their needs. Ensure they understand it is not their fault and keep their routines consistent.
Rushing the Sale
While keen to progress, avoid rushing into a sale before you are ready. Moving too quickly could mean selling below the market price or struggling to find new housing quickly. Agree to a realistic timeline.
Handling External Pressure
From solicitors to estate agents, many parties may pressure you to sell your home. But it must happen at your pace. Friends and family can provide emotional support during this difficult process.
Viewings can be awkward if there are tensions between you. Communicate pragmatically regarding times that suit you both. Or agree for just one person to handle viewings if preferable.
By anticipating challenges, you can aim to handle the sale in a mature, business-like manner. This will achieve the best result for you both.
Tips for a Smooth House Sale During a Divorce
Selling a home during separation can be stressful. Here are some tips for making the process as conflict-free as possible:
- Agree on a timeframe: Set a target date to sell by which suits both your needs. This avoids one party delaying.
- Instruct one solicitor: Appoint a single solicitor to manage the sale to prevent compensation claims.
- Maintain the property: Ensuring the house is clean and well presented will achieve a quicker, higher sale.
- Communicate through solicitors: Limit contact during the sale to avoid unnecessary arguments.
- Make financial agreements: Cover how to split bills, mortgage payments and profits.
- Consider mediation: An independent mediator can overcome sticking points and broker a deal.
- Get on with life: Avoid letting the sale take over everything else. Focus on work, friends and your wellbeing.
Selling a family property
Selling a long-term family home is never easy, both practically and emotionally. While it can seem overwhelming, looking at the situation strategically and focusing on fair solutions can make the process more straightforward.
While there is no magic formula, being aware of your rights, communicating pragmatically and involving experts like solicitors or valuers at the correct times will all contribute to a successful sale.
For any other questions, such as can a jointly owned property be sold by one owner, get in touch with We Buy Any Home.