A survival guide to home ownership and living together

When you moved in with your partner, you may not have thought about the legal details for long. But if you’re not married or in a civil partnership, the choice you made about who does or doesn’t own the home could make a huge difference if you split up or if one of you dies, and could put you at a real disadvantage.
Getting started

This is just one of our resources to help you if you are living with your partner. You may also be interested in

How to make a Living Together Agreement

A survival guide to benefits and living together

A survival guide to living together and breaking up

This guide is for you if

  • you live with your partner but you are not married or in a civil partnership, 
  • you want to understand more about where you stand, legally, when it comes to your home, and,
  • you live in England or Wales. 

Being married or in a civil partnership changes your rights to where you live, and so this guide will not be right for you if you are married or in a civil partnership, even if you are separating or separated.

In this guide we explain:

  • The law on home ownership and how to work out how your home is owned,
  • The different ways you can own your home with someone else,
  • How to work out which type of home ownership arrangement is best for you, and,
  • The steps you can take to change your situation to protect yourself and your partner.

Legal language

We try to explain any legal or technical language as we go along but there is also a section at the end called What does it mean? to help you.

What countries does this guide cover?

The information in this guide applies to England and Wales only.

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March 2021 
How to work out how your home is owned

It is really important to work out what your legal rights are when it comes to your home. And, if your partner agrees, you may well be able to change things, if you find you made a mistake at the start.

Home ownership and property law

The difference between the Title Register and the deeds

Many people talk about the ‘deeds’ when they talk about home ownership. The deeds or, title deeds, are papers that show the chain of ownership of a property, going back some time or even a long time.

They are very important if the property isn’t registered at the Land Registry but most homes in England and Wales are registered now. Once a property is registered all the information about it is stored electronically at the Land Registry and that record is the one that counts - when you need to prove who owns a property.

The deeds can still be important documents so keep them safe if you do have them - sometimes they are with the mortgage lender or simply lost.  

While you may be in a very serious and committed relationship and see yourself, essentially, as being no different to a couple who are married, or in a civil partnership, the law that applies to your situation is different. If you break up, you are not protected in the same way as people who are married or in a civil partnership are.

To understand how you own your home with your partner and what happens if you break up, you need to know a bit about the law on property ownership. These are quite complicated legal rules. Stick with us… a cup of tea might help! 

There are two ways you can own a home (or other property):

  1. There is someone lawyers call the ‘legal’ owner. This tells you who the ‘official’ owner of the home is. This person’s name is registered as the legal owner on the Title Register at the Land Registry (more on this below). Having the legal interest gives you the right to control the property, for example, sell it.
  2. There is also someone call the ‘beneficial’ owner. This person owns the benefit, value or what lawyers call the ‘equity’ in the property. Lawyers also talk about this type of owner as having a ‘beneficial interest’ in the home. Having the beneficial interest in the property means you are entitled to some amount of the value when it is sold.

Often if you own your home you will be both the legal and beneficial owner. But sometimes you may be just one or the other. We will explain why this can be important in a bit.

Finding out how your home is owned

You may have a clear understanding of who owns your home and how. Or, you might not actually be sure at all.

The only way to know for definite is:

  1. To check the Land Registry register for the property (unless the property is unregistered land - which is unlikely) and,
  2. To check what is says on the TR1 form - this is the form that you have to fill in, with the help of a property lawyer, when you buy a home and the old owner transfers the home to you. (We explain more about this in a bit).

Checking the Land Registry Register

To check the Land Registry Register, you need to pay a small fee - either £3 for an online copy or £7 for an official copy sent to you by post.

You will receive a document called the Title Register. The Title Register tells you several things, including:

  • Who is the legal owner of the home,
  • how much it cost when it was bought,
  • If there is a mortgage, and if so, who the lender is.

To legally own the home just in your name, or with another person, your name needs to be on the Title Register of the property at the Land Registry.

If your name is on the mortgage, this doesn’t mean you own the home - unless it is on the Title Register too - it just means you have a legal responsibility to pay the mortgage. 

When you look at the Land Registry Title Register for your home you will be able to see:

  • If just one person owns the home, and who that is (for example just your partner or just you), or,
  • If two or more people own the home, who they are.

Most commonly, your partner’s name, or your name or both your names will be on the register. Sometimes, things get a bit more complicated, for example if another family member of yours or your partner owns some or all of the home. In this guide we are focussing on a situation that just involves you and your partner.

The Title Register only tells you who the legal owner or owners are. It does not tell you who the beneficial owners are. If you own your home with your partner you need to see how much of the value of the home belongs to you, or what beneficial interest you have in the home. For this you need to check the TR1 form.

The TR1 form

TR1 form is the form that you have to fill in, with the help of a property lawyer, when you buy a home and the old owner transfers the home to you. It is also sometimes called the Transfer Deed. It is a legally binding document that moves the ownership of the home from the old owner to you.

If two people buy a home together it will say on this form how they have agreed to share what lawyers call the beneficial interest in the home. This will tell you what value of the home you own, if any. There are different ways to own the beneficial interest, which we will explain in a bit.

You may have the TR1 form in paperwork the property lawyer who helped you buy the home gave you when they finished the work for you. If not, you can contact the Land Registry to ask for a copy to be sent to you.

The next section explains more about:

  • What it means, legally, if one person owns the home, and,
  • What it means, legally, if two people own the home.
The different ways you can own your home with someone else

Situation 1 -  When the ownership of the home is just in one person’s name

If your home is owned in just one person’s name and you are not married or in a civil partnership, usually only the person whose name is on the Title Register has any legal rights to the home or to the money if it were sold. This is known as owning your home in your ‘sole’ name. Lawyers also call this ‘sole ownership’.

It is sometimes possible to show that, by making financial or other significant contributions, you have gained a beneficial interest in the home. But this is usually very tricky to prove and means going to the civil court. Because it is a complicated area of the law the outcome can be uncertain, making it all very expensive and stressful.

You will know if only one person owns the home by looking at the Title Register - it will just have one name on it in the Proprietorship Register section and the person named there will be the sole legal owner.

If your name isn’t on the Title Register, you have no automatic legal right to stay in the home if you and your partner separate, and you have no automatic right to any of the value of the home if you separate. This means that if your relationship breaks down you could suddenly be in a very tricky place. 

Depending on what has happened in your break up, you might be able to apply to the family court for an order to say you can stay in the home for a set period of time. This type of order is called an occupation order. You need to show that you or your children have been a victim of domestic abuse due to the behaviour of the other person in the home to apply for this order. This can help, but is only a short term solution.

It is sometimes possible to show that you do have a beneficial interest in the home. This will depend on:

  • What was agreed when you moved in,
  • What and how you have contributed, and,
  • If there are any children.

We explain more about the law and your options, depending on your situation, in A survival guide to living together and breaking up

If you think or know your home is owned in just one person’s name, you can skip to the bit called Where only one person owns the home - known as sole ownership in the next section - Working out which type of home ownership arrangement is best for you.

Situation 2 - When the home is owned by both you and your partner

The difference between joint tenants and tenants in common

Owning your home as joint tenants means you both own the home together as a whole. 

Owning your home as tenants in common means you can keep your shares separate. You can have equal shares or unequal shares.

When you own your home with someone else, such as your partner, both your names will be on the Title Register at the Land Registry. This means that you jointly own the legal title. The next thing to do is understand what beneficial interest you have in the home.

The law allows you to own the beneficial interest in a home with another person in two different ways: 

  • As joint tenants, or,
  • As tenants in common.

The jargon is a bit confusing, but don’t be put off by it. If you’re not married or in a civil partnership, which one you choose can have significant consequences, so it is really important to understand the difference.

Owning your home as beneficial joint tenants means:

  • You own it jointly and you each own all of it. If you split up you are entitled to half of the value.
  • If one of you dies, the other person automatically owns the whole property. Lawyers call this the ‘Right of Survivorship’. This means that if your partner dies, you become the sole owner and no share of it can pass to someone else under a Will or through the intestacy rules.

The intestacy rules are legal rules which say how someone’s things of value, or ‘assets’ as lawyers call them, and possessions, should be dealt with when they die without a Will.

Owning a home as beneficial tenants in common means:

  • You each own a defined share of the value. You agree the shares, or sometimes the court orders what share you each get.
  • You can own it in any shares that you agree on with your partner (70/30, 60/40, 50/50 etc.)
  • If one of you dies, your share goes to whoever is named in your Will. If there is no Will, it will go to your closest relative in line with the intestacy rules.

If you own your home with your partner in this way and you are not married or in a civil partnership and your partner dies, without a Will leaving their share to you, their share will have to go to someone else in line with the intestacy rules. This means the home will have to be sold and you will only get the agreed share you had originally, from the sale money.

Top tip!

One way of understanding the difference between a joint tenancy and tenancy in common is to think of a Kit Kat bar. The whole bar with four bits joined together is a joint tenancy. If you break it in two, there is a tenancy in common in equal shares. If you break off three fingers for yourself and leave one finger for your partner, that is a tenancy in common in unequal shares.

Working out if you own your home with your partner as beneficial joint tenants or as tenants in common

To work out whether you own the property as beneficial joint tenants or tenants in common you need to look at the Title Register for your home and the TR1 form. For a reminder on what these documents are, take another look at the section called How to work out how your home is owned.

When you have your copy of the Title Register you need to look at section B which is called the Proprietorship Register. Here it will set out your names and address. If there is no other information in this section it usually means you own the home as joint tenants.

But you need to check the TR1 form for the definitive answer. When you have received this from the Land Registry (see how to do this in the section called How to work out how your home is owned) you need to read it carefully. On this form it will say, in section 10, whether you own the beneficial interest as beneficial joint tenants or beneficial tenants in common. If you own it as tenants in common it will state what shares you each have.

The next section explains more about the advantages and disadvantages of the different ways of owning your home. What will be right for you depends very much on your own personal situation. We also explain steps you may be able to take to change the situation you find yourself in, if you think you need to.

Working out which type of home ownership arrangement is best for you

Where only one person owns the home - known as sole ownership

If your home is owned by someone else in just their name, this legal arrangement will probably only be right for you if you understand that you do not own a legal share of the home.

If you do make financial or other contributions, for example, by giving up paid work to raise the children, you may be able to say you have a beneficial interest in the home. But, to show this you would have to go to the civil court. These types of cases are complicated and therefore expensive and stressful and the outcome can be uncertain. So, this makes it a risky situation all round.

The best plan is to agree what would happen if you break up, write it down in a Living Together Agreement, and keep it safe.

Remember whoever owns the home also needs to make a Will. Without a Will, if the person who owns the home dies, the home will go to their nearest relative in line with the intestacy rules.

You could be in a very long-term serious relationship, and even have children together, but if your partner dies without you being married or in a civil partnership and without having made a Will, anything they own will go to a relative and not you. This could even be your partner’s wife, husband or civil partner, if they have one that they are separated but not divorced from! This may well not be what either of you want. It is very likely to leave you and any children in a risky situation when it comes to having somewhere to live. 

This legal arrangement may well not be right for you, if both of you are paying the mortgage or making other contributions (for example, if you are the non-owner and you earn less because you spend more time caring for the children). If you have children, then owning the home together will make things more secure for them. If, for example, you break up and you do not own the home but you are the main carer, you and the children will need to find somewhere else to live. The only way round this is if you can agree a different arrangement or show, by going to court, that you should have a share of the home based on complicated and expensive arguments about property law.

We explain more about the law and your options, depending on your situation, in A survival guide to living together and breaking up.

What to do if one of you owns your home and you think it should be in both names

 It might feel like a tricky topic to bring up with your partner, if you are the non-owner, but think it would be better if you owned the property together. Even if it is a difficult thing to discuss, it will probably be better to do it now and try and sort things out. Otherwise, you could end up breaking up and ending up with no home or, if your partner dies without a Will, you could end up with no partner and no home! If you possibly can, try and get a written record of what you manage to agree, even if it is only an exchange of emails or text messages.

It might be that you own the home in just your name - you need to think carefully about the reasons why you might want to change the legal situation. It could be because you are now in a serious relationship and you want to share your home with your partner permanently and put this on a legal footing. Do be sure to get independent legal advice before you make any big decisions.

It is a good idea for you both to get separate legal advice about this. If you do this, decide carefully how you want to own your home and in what shares. Bear in mind, if there are two owners you can only sell a home if both agree or if a court orders that the home must be sold.

Red exclamation mark - to bring something really important to your attention.If you are scared to bring up this issue with your partner or you find them being controlling or abusive, be sure to get some legal advice and support before you bring up the topic directly with them or make any decisions. For more on this, go to the section called More help and advice.

Sarah’s story

Sarah (43), met her partner 19 years ago when she and her two-year-old daughter were living in local council accommodation. Recently divorced and living with his parents, Sarah’s new partner soon moved into her home. He was developing a new property that he owned at the time and she started to contribute to the cost of the improvements.

Sarah’s partner was self-employed and she began to help him expand the business. She was never paid as he said there was no point - ‘it was all going into the same pot, they were both working for the good of the family’ - and he was already registered for VAT and tax.

After four years together, Sarah became pregnant so she and her partner decided to move into her partner’s newly developed home and Sarah gave up her house. Sarah knew the house was owned in her partner’s sole name and so she suggested adding hers as well. He insisted that it would be too much trouble and expense; he also said he didn’t want to marry again.

After 16 years together, the business started going downhill. Sarah’s partner became depressed, which lead to outbreaks of abusive and aggressive behaviour, so she decided to leave him. She believed she would be protected by the law as his ‘common law wife’. However, as there is no such thing as a common law husband or wife in English law, she was not protected. The only possible option was a complicated and expensive claim in the civil court where the outcome was uncertain. Sarah couldn’t afford this and so she and her daughters were left homeless with little option but to sleep on her mother’s floor, while her ex-partner continued to live in the home and benefit from its value that she had contributed to over many years.

When I discovered I had no legal rights to my home I couldn't believe it, I thought it must be a mistake. Losing everything left me completely devastated. Knowing what I know now, I would have definitely made sure that my name was on the deeds, you have to make sure you cover yourself.

Sarah

Where you own your home with your partner as beneficial joint tenants

This legal arrangement will be right for you if you are paying the same amount toward the deposit or mortgage. And you want the home to go to your partner when you die.

You might want this legal arrangement even if you are not contributing equally. If you are in a committed relationship, perhaps with children too, and you agree that you should have an equal standing in the home, regardless of the financial contributions you are making, this will be the right legal arrangement.

This is not likely to be the right arrangement if you are paying more of the deposit or mortgage than your partner, and would want more than half if you split up. Or, if you want to leave your half to somebody else when you die, such as children from a previous relationship.

What to do if you think it would be fairer to own your home as tenants in common

If it would be fairer to own your home as tenants in common, you can easily change it. If you both agree, you can also change the shares you each own.

To end a joint tenancy you need to fill in a form called a ‘Notice of Severance’ and make sure the other person receives it. By doing this, you change the beneficial joint tenancy into a beneficial tenancy in common in equal shares, regardless of what contributions you both made. There is information on how change the beneficial ownership in this way on the GOV.UK website. But, it is a good idea to get help from a solicitor if you decide to do this. For more on this go to the section called More help and advice.

You can find more useful information on how to change the way you own your home with someone else on gov.uk website.

Where you own your home as benficial tenants in common

This legal arrangement is likely to be right for you if you are paying different amounts toward the deposit or the mortgage, and want a fair return on your money if you split up. Or, if you want to leave your share of the home to your children or somebody else, rather than your partner who you own the home with. You might want to own the home this way if you are both putting the same in, but aren’t sure that you want each other to inherit your share if one of you dies.

If you want your partner to inherit your share, you must make a Will. To protect yourself and your partner if one of you dies, you can both make a Will leaving your share to the other. That way, you will have the same protection as if you were beneficial joint tenants.

This arrangement can also protect your partner if you are ever declared bankrupt, because only your share will be counted as one of your assets (although not if you had done this intentionally, because bankruptcy was likely).

This arrangement won’t be right for you if you want to own the home as a whole, together (whether you put in the same amount financially or not). It won’t be right for you if you haven’t made Wills but you want to make sure, if one of you dies, the other one can stay living in the home securely, as the owner. But, as explained above, you can make Wills to protect each other.

What to do if you think it would be fairer to own your home as beneficial joint tenants

If you have unequal shares in your home and it doesn’t seem right to you anymore, you can change the way you own the home, but only provided you both agree. You will need to see a solicitor to help you with this. See the section called More help and advice.

You can find more useful information on how to change the way you own your home with someone else on gov.uk website.

Making a Will

It is important to make a Will so that anything you own when you die goes to the person you want rather than according to the intestacy rules. The intestacy rules are legal rules which say how someone’s things of value, or ‘assets’ as lawyers call them, and possessions, should be dealt with when they die without a Will.

It is especially important to do this if you are in a serious relationship but not married or in a civil partnership. If you are not married or in a civil partnership you have no automatic right to inherit your partner’s assets. This means without a Will, your assets will not just go to your partner. Instead they will go your nearest living relative which may well not be what you want, and could leave your partner in a difficult situation.

What does it mean? (home ownership)

Assets - things of value, such as property and savings.

Beneficial interest - if you have a beneficial interest in a property you own some or all of the benefit, value or what lawyers call the ‘equity’, in the property. You are entitled to benefit from the property, for example, by living in it, receiving rent from it or some or all of the money if it is sold.

Deeds - The deeds or, title deeds, are papers that show the chain of ownership of a property, going back some time or even a long time. They are very important if the property isn’t registered at the Land Registry but most homes in England and Wales are registered now. Once a property is registered all the information about it is stored electronically at the Land Registry.

Equity - when this word is used to talk about property it means the financial value in the home - what money you would get if the property was sold, after any loans and other fees were paid.

Intestacy rules - these are the legal rules that say what happens to your assets if you die without a Will.

Joint tenants - owning your home as beneficial joint tenants means you both own the home together as a whole. 

Land Registry - This is the government department responsible for keeping records of land and property ownership in England and Wales.

Legal interest - The person who has the legal interest in the home is the ‘official’ owner of the home. This person’s name is registered as the legal owner on the Title Register at the Land Registry. Having the legal interest gives you the right to control the property, for example, sell it.

Occupation order - this is an order made by the family court which says who can stay in the home, or part of it, and who has to leave when there has been domestic abuse in the relationship or home. It can also prevent one person from coming near the home for a set period of time. It is a harsh measure, so you must have clear reasons to show why you should be allowed to stay in the home, while the other person should leave. The order usually only last for a few months and so does not change people’s longer term rights to the home.

Right of Survivorship - this is the legal rule that says if you own a property with another person as beneficial joint tenants, when one of you die the other person automatically owns all of the property.

Sole ownership - when the home is owned in just one person’s name.

Tenants in common - owning your home as beneficial tenants in common means you can keep the shares that you own separate. You can have equal shares or unequal shares.

Title Register - this is the Register at the Land Registry that tells you, among other things, who is the legal owner of a property.

TR1 form - TR1 form is the form that you have to fill in, with the help of a property lawyer, when you buy a home and the old owner transfers the home to you. It is also sometimes called the Transfer Deed. It is a legally binding document that moves the ownership of the home from the old owner to you.

More help and advice (home ownership)

Independent legal advice

To find a good family lawyer a good place to start is Resolution where you can find lawyers by searching using your postcode. Resolution members must commit to helping you work out your legal problem in a non-confrontational way.

You can find an accredited lawyer who is a specialist by going to the ‘Find a law professional’ page. Then, click on ‘advanced search’. Click on ‘Type of Resolution accreditation’ and choose ‘Cohabitation - TOLATA’.

You can also search for a specialist lawyer near you who has been accredited by the Law Society. This means they have a significant amount of experience and expertise and have passed a Law Society assessment. On the Law Society Find a solicitor page, choose the ‘Pro Search’ and then click on ‘More search options’ on the right at the bottom of the box. This gives more options to choose from. Here you can tick the accreditation box for ‘Family’ or ‘Family - advanced’, or both.

You can also find a family lawyer via the gov.uk website by searching online for 'find a legal aid adviser or family mediator'.

Depending on your situation you may actually only need a property lawyer. To find a property lawyer, also called a conveyancer, you can search on the Law Society Find a solicitor page. Choose the ‘Pro Search’ and then click on ‘More search options’ on the right at the bottom of the box. This gives more options to choose from. Here you can tick the accreditation box for ‘Conveyancing Quality Scheme’.

Rights of Women offers free, confidential legal advice for women in England and Wales on family law matters (for example, about domestic violence and abuse, divorce, cohabitation, finances and property on relationship breakdown, parental responsibility and arrangements for children and lesbian parenting). 

For women in England and Wales, call: 020 7251 6577. Line open Monday to Thursday, 7pm to 9pm, Fridays 12pm to 2pm (closed on public holidays). 

For women in London, call: 020 7608 1137. Line open Monday 11am to 1pm, Tuesday 2pm - 4pm, Wednesdays and Thursdays 10am - 12pm and 2pm to 4pm (closed on public holidays).

Domestic abuse and violence

If your partner or ex has been or is being abusive to you there are lots of places you can find out more information and get support.

Always dial 999 in an emergency.

In our section called Help with family problems we have a film that tells you about how to apply to the court for protection from domestic abuse from your partner or ex-partner

You can also get free help from lawyers at FLOWS run by RCJ Advice.  

For support or to discuss your options you can call the National Domestic Violence Helpline on 0808 2000 247 or in Wales, Live Fear Free on 0808 80 10 800. Both help lines are for anyone who is experiencing, or has experienced domestic abuse, or for anyone who is worried about domestic abuse happening to a friend, family member or colleague. It is free, confidential and the number will not show up on a BT telephone bill.

If you are a man and you or your children are affected by domestic violence or abuse you can contact the Men’s Advice Line on 0808 801 0327

The DYN project provides support to men in Wales who are experiencing domestic abuse from a partner. You can contact them on 0808 801 0321.

Galop runs a national helpline for lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people experiencing domestic abuse. You can contact them on 0800 999 5428

You can find more information and support from:

About this guide

Disclaimer

The information in this guide applies to the law in England and Wales only.

The information in this guide is correct at the date of publication. The law is complicated and does change. We have simplified things in this guide. Please don’t rely on this guide as a complete statement of the law. We recommend you try and get advice from the sources we have suggested.

The cases we refer to are not always real but show a typical situation. We have included them to help you think about how to deal with your own situation.

Acknowledgements

This guide was written and produced by Advicenow, thanks to funding from the Litigant in Person Support Strategy.

We would like to thank all those who provided feedback on this guide and took part in the pilot, particularly Laetitia Tempelman, Hilary Woodward, Rhys Taylor of 36 Group Chambers and Melanie Bataillard-Samuel of Expatriate Law.

Can you help us?

We hope you found this guide helpful. Can you support this guide with a donation? To donate just go to www.advicenow.org.uk/donate.

We are always trying to improve our service. If you have any comments on what you like or don’t like about this guide please go to www.advicenow.org.uk/feedback.

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1 Reviews

Clear, concise guide with valuable information

This is an excellent guide which is clear, concise and to the point. I really like the different sections, and how you can jump between them if one section doesn’t apply to your situation. The information I gained from this guide has been incredibly useful. It prompted me to check on my partner and my own home ownership situation and we’re currently investigating a potential change that seems fairer for both of us.
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Laetitia Tempelman on the 21 / 04 / 2021

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