The most valuable asset owned by a couple is often the family home and while family relations are good, often not much thought is given to the precise ownership of assets. However, what happens if the marriage breaks down and the family home is registered in just one person’s name? If one spouse or civil partner is not named as a legal owner of the property, third parties looking at the Land Registry (or, for unregistered properties, the title deeds) will not be aware of their occupation and may simply assume they can deal with the legal owner. However, there are steps the non-owning spouses can take to ensure their occupation can continue.
Where the family home is registered in just one spouse’s name, it is possible for the non-owning, occupying spouse to apply to register a “Home Right Notice” under the Family Law Act 1996. This provides a statutory right for the non-owning spouse to continue to occupy the property and ensures they cannot be evicted without an order of the court. This right is shown by an additional entry on the Land Registry record for the property and, once registered, offers protection from a sale (or other dealing with the property) by the owning spouse.
Successfully applying to register a Home Right does not necessarily mean that the non-owning spouse has an interest in the property, and it certainly cannot create one. However, it offers protection for the non-owning spouse in the short term while negotiations are being conducted in connection with the couple’s separation. It ensures any dealing, particularly a sale, of the property by the legal owner cannot be completed without the non-owning spouse’s consent; as well as highlighting to third parties that there is a person occupying, and entitled to occupy, the property. It is therefore very sensible for the non-owning spouse to register these rights.
The application to register the Home Right is straightforward and the Land Registry does not charge a fee. The application includes statements by the applicant (or their legal representative) confirming how the right to make the application has arisen - usually that the applicant occupies the property as the matrimonial home. The Land Registry will serve notice on the owner to inform them of the application. The owner does have the opportunity to object to the notice being entered on the register; however the Home Right will already have been noted on the property title because the application can be made unilaterally, thereby providing protection with immediate effect.
If the property is unregistered, which can be common if it has been owned for many years, then it’s still possible to gain the Home Right protection by a slightly different process of registering a Land Charge.
A Home Right application can therefore provide substantial protection for non-owner spouses living in a property as their matrimonial home, and is a quick and easy step.