Property problem on relationship breakdown
With the property-buying season set to go into full swing, a leading Yorkshire lawyer is warning people across the region they could be gambling with property worth up to £17bn if they have not put the appropriate precautions in place to protect their homes in the event of a relationship break down.
Alison Straw, head of the family team with national law firm Irwin Mitchell at its offices in Queen Street, Leeds, said that it was time for people to be more prudent when it comes to buying property and take professional legal advice on how the property is protected in the case of both married and co-habiting couples should the relationship come to an end.
Alison Straw said: "It's a staggering sum of money that people across Yorkshire are prepared to play with. Unfortunately, many couples only seem to take the relevant legal advice on what should happen to the property once the relationship with their spouse or partner is on a downwards spiral, instead of at the outset when the house is being bought. People are therefore taking huge financial risks, as for most, buying a house is the biggest financial investment they're likely to make.
"Although it is now much more acceptable and increasingly common for couples to live together without being married, the law has yet to catch up and rules governing married couples are very different to those for co-habiting couples."
Family law specialist
Mrs Straw said: "Joint tenancy is the most common way for married couples to buy a property. It means both parties own the whole property and if one dies, the other will automatically inherit the other half. But as tenants in common, each party owns a specific share of the property - this could be a 50:50 split or 75:25 - and on death, the share of the property does not automatically go to the other property owner, it goes to whoever it was left to according to the will. If a co-habiting couple do not state the share split, the law says they are equal."
Despite this, the case of Stack v Dowden last month has done little to clarify the situation for co-habiting couples. The case involved a couple who had been married for 27 years and had four children together.
Barry Stack wanted a half share of the £750,000 house they had lived in but the courts found in his ex-partner, Dehra Dowden's favour, despite their joint ownership of the property. It was concluded that they had contributed to the house unequally and Mr Stack was awarded just 35% of the sale of the house and a legal bill, which will amount to around the same as the £112,000 portion of the house they were fighting over.
Family law advice on property rights
Mrs Straw said: "Prevention is definitely better than the cure and if people would only take the time to get proper legal advice before they make a house purchase, there would be no need for the lengthy and often emotionally fraught arguments over the property should the relationship break down.
"Until the law catches up with modern society and makes clear the rights of co-habiting couples - not only concerning property, but also a host of other legal issues where they are treated differently to married couples - then it is essential that people take appropriate, independent legal advice. And doing this at the start of the process when the relationship is amicable, is the best way."
For further information on property rights, contact the family law team at Irwin Mitchell on 0370 1500 100.