Property can be owned in the names of one or more people. If you're not sure whether you own your home jointly with your spouse or civil partner (and if you do, what percentage share you have), you can check easily and cheaply by getting a copy of the records of the property from the Land Registry website - www.landregistry.gov.uk. This is public information you can access yourself. Alternatively, ask the solicitors who dealt with the purchase for you to confirm how the property is held.
If the house is in joint names
In England and Wales, if you own property jointly with someone else you will be either 'joint tenants' or 'tenants in common' (see Jargon made clear). You should have been advised which arrangement was more appropriate for you when you bought the property.
Joint tenants each own half of the property and if one of them dies, the other person will automatically receive the other's share. The property becomes automatically entirely theirs. Tenants in common own the property in whatever shares they agree, and they can each provide for their share to be left to whoever they like in their Will. Their share does not automatically pass to the other partner. You may want to take advice from a solicitor – see Useful links – about how the type of ownership you have could affect you.
Changing the ownership
You might want to change the way that you own the property from joint tenants to tenants in common by what is called 'severing' the joint tenancy (see Jargon made clear) and then making a new Will. If you do this, you would become tenants in common each owning 50 per cent of the property. There is no need for the other owner to agree to this for it to be effective. This is a very straightforward thing to do. You simply need to write to the other owner confirming that you want to sever the joint tenancy, although you may like to speak to a solicitor. See Useful links. You should keep a copy of any 'severance' letter that you send as well as proof of sending it.
Your shares in the property will be taken into account when deciding a fair split of the things you own (See Splitting what you have – Property). As a joint owner of the property, your spouse or civil partner will not be able to sell the property or remortgage it without your agreement. However, if your spouse or civil partner found themselves in financial difficulties creditors may try to take over your partner's interest and perhaps force a sale - see Managing money – Financial problems.
If it is in one name
The value of the property will still be taken into account in deciding the financial settlement and can be transferred into the other spouse or civil partner's name. You also have the right to continue living in the property until the final decree absolute of divorce although it is usually agreed that this can continue until the final financial settlement has been agreed.
Protecting your rights
If you are not a legal owner of your family home, you can register a Home Rights notice (see Jargon made clear) at the Land Registry. This gives you the right to stay in the property until the decree absolute/final dissolution order. It does not prevent your spouse or civil partner from dealing with the property, for example selling the property or taking out a mortgage against it, but it does mean that you will be told if this happens. The Home Rights notice will alert a purchaser or mortgage company to your interest, which may make them less likely to agree to complete a remortgage or sale until you have reached a final agreement. It will also prevent a purchaser forcing you out of the property. You should be aware that the Land Registry will notify your spouse or civil partner of any application you make to register a notice.
You can only register a Home Rights notice against one property. If your spouse or civil partner owns other properties in his or her sole name, and you are concerned that he or she might sell them without telling you, there are various steps that you can take to protect your position. See Splitting what you have – Property.
If it is in the name of someone else
For various reasons, a property may be owned in the name of another family member. A property may also be owned by a trust or company. You or your spouse or civil partner might be able to claim an interest in the property. It is therefore essential that you find out the actual ownership of the property before a settlement is reached to make sure any interest in the property is taken into account. This can be a complex area and you should speak to a solicitor if you think it could apply to you.
- Check who owns the home and in what shares.
- Check what rights you have if you are not an owner.
- Consider recording your rights with the Land Registry
- Get the home valued.
- Check whether your mortgage lender would agree to a transfer of the home to one of you.