Relationship breakdown law for sole owners and spouses or civil partners

Legislation covering relationship breakdown issues for sole owners and their civil partners or spouses includes family law and property law.

This content applies to England & Wales

Matrimonial and family law

The statutes governing the action that can be taken by married sole owners and their non-owning spouses in relation to the matrimonial home are the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 and the Family Law Act 1996. The Children Act 1989 may also be relevant if there are children. The Matrimonial Causes Act gives the courts wide powers to decide who gets what in the long term in financial and property terms. It can make an order for transfer of property from one spouse to another in conjunction with proceedings for divorce, judicial separation or nullity.

On 5 December 2005, the Civil Partnership Act 2004 came into force, allowing applicants of the same sex to apply for civil partnerships. On termination of the partnership, the parties will have the same rights to financial relief as married couples on divorce provided for in the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973. The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 extended the right to marry to same sex couples and the The Civil Partnership (Opposite-sex Couples) Regulations 2019 extended the provisions of the Civil Partnership Act 2004 to opposite sex couples.

The Family Law Act gives married couples and civil partners the right to apply for an occupation order of the matrimonial home. It also allows the courts to order a transfer of liabilities in respect of a matrimonial home owned by one of the spouses and order a transfer of property from one spouse to another.

Property law

Property law explains the legal position of sole owners and non-owning spouses and civil partners in relation to their interest in the home. Using property law principles, courts can establish what interests are held in the home, but they cannot transfer or redistribute those interests. Of particular relevance to relationship breakdown is the Trusts of Land and Appointment of Trustees Act 1996. Where family law applies, it can override property law rights.

Last updated: 23 February 2021