It may come as a surprise to some that couples who are unmarried but own a property together, are not governed by family law legislation, but rather by property law: in the event of relationship breakdown or a dispute they will need to take specialist advice from a dispute resolution solicitor.
Under the Trusts of Land and Appointment of Trustees Act 1996 (ToLATA), the court has powers to determine the extent of a person’s interest in a property. Of course, this does not just apply to couples in a romantic relationship, it can be friends, family members, professional investors or even inheritors of an estate property which is at the centre of the dispute.
There are distinct types of interest in land; these comprise the legal title and the beneficial title. The legal title is registered with the Land Registry, and a simple search of the title will confirm the legal owner or, indeed, owners). There is though no guarantee that the legal owner (or registered proprietor) is also the beneficial owner and that they own the land for their own benefit. Beneficial rights can be acquired irrespective of whether a legal title has ever been registered in a person's name.
ToLATA allows you to pursue a claim, even if you’re not named on the deeds/title to a property. For example, if you have been contributing financially to a property but you are not named as a legal owner at the Land Registry you may be able to bring a claim.
Most of these disputes arise when couples sell their individual properties and buy properties together. These can include residential homes, holiday homes, bare land, or commercial premises.
There are two main types of application that can be made under ToLATA to resolve disputes about land. These are:
- an application asking the Court to determine who is entitled to occupy the property; and
- an application asking the Court to determine what share (if any) each of you owns.
In disputes about co-ownership, these powers are used most frequently in seeking an Order that requires a co-owned property to be sold so that the proceeds can be divided.
If you are in need of a specialist solicitor in this area then we have a wealth of experience in this type of dispute who can be contacted using the enquiry form on the left.