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What happens to your home when you separate

This advice applies to England

If you live with your partner, you’ll need to decide what to do about your home when you separate. Your options depends whether you're unmarried, or married or in a civil partnership, and whether you rent or have a mortgage.

If you’ve already tried to sort things out with your ex-partner and are finding it difficult, you can get help reaching an agreement. A specialist called a ‘mediator’ can help you and your partner find a solution without going to court.

If your partner makes you feel anxious or threatened, you should get help.

Don’t try to agree what to do about your home without speaking to someone first. 

You can call Refuge or Women's Aid on 0808 2000 247 at any time. 

Men's Advice Line is a charity that helps men suffering domestic abuse. You can call their helpline on 0808 801 0327 between 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.

 If you’re unsure about what to do next, contact your nearest Citizens Advice.

If you still live together

You can both stay in the home after you separate, but if you plan to get divorced you’ll need to prove you lead different lives. To do this, you should:

  • have separate bedrooms
  • avoid eating or socialising together
  • get separate bank accounts - especially if you get joint benefits to one bank account

If you rent

If you both want to leave, you need to end your tenancy - also called 'giving notice'. Find out how to end your tenancy.

If only one of you wants to move out, you’ll first need to check which type of tenancy you have.

If you signed for a set period of time, you have a ‘fixed term contract’.

If your contract doesn’t have a set period or end date, you’ll probably have a ‘rolling contract’.

You can also check what tenancy you have with Shelter's tenancy checker.

You’ll also need to look at your tenancy agreement to see who’s named on it.

If you’re both named as tenants, you’ll be ‘joint tenants’ and have the same rights. If one of you is named as an ‘occupant’, you won’t have the same rights.

If your ex-partner moves out, they can move back in at any point while they’re still named as a tenant on the contract. If you move out, you’ll still be expected to pay rent if you’re still named on the tenancy.

You should try and make sure your tenancy agreement is updated if either of you leave. How and when you can do this depends on the type of tenancy you have, who else is named on the tenancy and your landlord’s discretion.

If you have a fixed-term tenancy

If you’re joint tenants you’ll need to decide who moves out. Ask your landlord if they’re happy to rent to the person who plans to stay - if they agree, get this in writing.

Your landlord then needs to end the joint tenancy and start a new one with the person who stays. You’ll both be expected to pay rent until the new tenancy starts.

You can apply for a ‘transfer of tenancy’ if your landlord refuses to change your contract - this is a court order that can change your ex-partner’s tenancy to your name, or remove their name from a joint tenancy.

You need to go to court to transfer a tenancy, so it’s best to try to come to an agreement with your partner first if you can. If you’re getting divorced, you can usually include a transfer of tenancy in your divorce proceedings.

Contact your nearest Citizens Advice if you want to apply for a transfer of tenancy - an adviser can explain the process and help you find a solicitor.

If only one person is named on the contract

Ask your landlord to change the name on the contract if the named person wants to leave - this is called 'assignment'.

You can apply for a transfer of tenancy if your landlord refuses to change your contract. You'll need to go to court.

It's usually not worth going to court to transfer if you have an assured shorthold tenancy - unless your landlord is a housing association.

Contact your nearest Citizens Advice for help assigning your tenancy, or if you aren’t sure whether it’s allowed.

If you have a rolling tenancy

If you’re joint tenants and you both want to leave, either you or your ex-partner can end the tenancy by giving notice - usually 28 days. You’ll both need to move out.

If one of you plans to stay, it’s usually best to explain this to your landlord or housing association and ask them to update the tenancy agreement.

If you don’t, you’re both still responsible for rent and the person who leaves can still give notice to end the tenancy. If you plan to apply for social housing, your application might also be rejected if you’re still named on another tenancy agreement.

Your landlord might want to end the joint tenancy and start a new one with the person who stays. If you’re staying, think about whether they’re likely to rent to you before you speak to them - for example if you’ve had rent arrears in the past.

You can apply for a ‘transfer of tenancy’ if your landlord refuses to change your contract - this is a court order that can change your ex-partner’s tenancy to your name, or remove their name from a joint tenancy.

It's usually not worth going to court to transfer if you have an assured shorthold tenancy - unless your landlord is a housing association.

Contact your nearest Citizens Advice before going any further if you’re worried your landlord might refuse to start a new tenancy with one of you. When you speak to an adviser, take a copy of your tenancy agreement if you can.

If your ex-partner wants to end the tenancy

You can try to stop this from happening if you want to stay. You’ll need to apply to court for an injunction before your partner gives notice - this can be complicated, so it’s best to get legal help to apply for an injunction.

If you own your home

You have the right to stay in the home if you're married, in a civil partnership or on the 'title deeds' - the document that proves who owns your home.

If you're both on title deeds, it means you both own your home. You'll both need to decide what happens to your home.

You might both own the whole property together - known as 'joint tenancy'. You'll need to go to mediation or a solicitor if you can't sort out what share you'll each get - the starting point is usually that you'll each get half.

You might each own a part of the property - for example, half each - known as 'tenancy in common'.

If you're tenants in common, your solicitor might have given you a document showing how much you each owned when you bought it. If you've got nothing in writing to show how much you both own, you should seek legal advice.

If you both want to leave, you can sell the home and split any profits (the 'equity') - you can get help selling your home.

You might be able to buy your ex-partner’s share if you want to stay, or sell them yours if you want to leave. You'll need a mortgage.

You can speak to your mortgage lender - or you can try to find a mortgage with another lender. You can do this by speaking to banks or building societies yourself or through a mortgage broker. Some mortgage brokers will charge you a fee.

Your mortgage lender will usually want to check that the person who wants to stay can afford the whole mortgage by themselves. They’ll usually ask to see evidence like payslips and bank statements.

You’ll need to get in touch with a solicitor to transfer ownership on the land registry. Make sure you're able to get a mortgage by yourself first - otherwise you could waste money on a solicitor.

If you’re both named on the mortgage, you’re both responsible for the payments - including any arrears - even if one of you moves out.

Contact your nearest Citizens Advice if you’re thinking of buying or selling a share of your home. An adviser can explain the process and help you work out what’s best for you.

If you aren’t named on the title deeds

You might still be able to prove your right to the home if you can show that you have ‘beneficial interest’. This usually means you’ve contributed to the home in ways other than directly paying the mortgage - for example by paying bills or council tax.

In court, you’ll need to show a judge how you’ve contributed towards paying for the home - this can be difficult, so contact your nearest Citizens Advice before you start. An adviser can help you through the process.

If you’re married or in a civil partnership, it’s a good idea to register your ‘matrimonial home rights’ online. This means you’ll be told if your ex-partner tries to sell the house or the mortgage lender tries to repossess it.

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