If a cohabiting couple splits up, the family home (and other family assets) will belong to the person who holds the legal title to the home/assets. This means that in the case of the family home, the person who originally bought the house and whose name is on the title deeds will usually own the house.
This also applies to a married couple who split up. Marriage does not automatically give you ownership of your spouse’s assets. Where the family home was bought and registered in both spouses’ names, they are the joint owners. However, where the house is registered in the name of one spouse only, it may be solely that spouse’s property.
If your relationship breaks down and your name is not on the title deeds to the house, you may still be able to show that you have some ownership rights in relation to the house. These rights are based on the fact that you made a contribution to the purchase price of the house with the intention of gaining a share in the ownership of the house.
Contributions to the purchase price of the house can be direct or indirect. Direct contributions include contributions to the initial down payment for the house or contributions to the mortgage installments. Indirect contributions may include paying some of the other day-to-day household expenses or unpaid work in the legal owner of the house's business. It has been held by the courts that working in the home looking after children and money spent or work done on home improvements are not contributions that give you any right of ownership in relation to the house.
Usually, where you can show that you have made a contribution to the purchase price of the house, you will be entitled to a share in the house in proportion to your contribution. For example, if you have shown that you paid off half of a mortgage that represented 90% of the purchase price, you would be entitled to 45% of the ownership of the property.
As well as showing that you made a financial contribution to the purchase price of the house, you must also show that your contribution was made with the intention of gaining a share in the ownership of the house and that you were not making a gift of the money to the legal owner of the house.
Under the redress scheme for cohabiting couples a property adjustment order is one of the remedies available to the courts. A property adjustment order in relation to the family or shared home is usually applied for when applying for a decree of judicial separation, divorce or dissolution.
If you are in a situation where you are concerned about your rights following the breakdown of your cohabiting relationship, you should seek legal advice. Solicitors' fees are not fixed and can vary considerably. Shop around and obtain some quotes before you decide on a particular legal firm. Contact information for solicitors firms throughout Ireland is available on the Law Society website.
FLAC (Free Legal Advice Centres) is an independent, voluntary organisation that operates a network of legal advice clinics throughout the country. These clinics are confidential, free of charge and open to all. Contact your nearest Citizens Information Centre for information on FLAC services in your area. FLAC also runs an information and referral line during office hours for basic legal information.
If you have a question relating to this topic you can contact the Citizens Information Phone Service on 0761 07 4000 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 8pm) or you can visit your local Citizens Information Centre.