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What happens when couples split up after buying a home together?
Buying a home together is usually a huge and exciting step for couples, marking the next stage in a relationship.
But life doesn’t always go to plan and some couples can find themselves splitting up further down the line – and with living costs rising sharply and the housing market looking uncertain, this could mean living together but ‘apart’ for a significant period of time.
Research from property website Zoopla found couples who continued to live together after splitting up spent just over a year in that situation on average.
Three in 10 (30%) described the experience as awkward, while just over a fifth (22%) said it was excruciating. One in six (15%) said their ex-partner started a new relationship while they were still living together, according to Zoopla’s survey.
Money was a big driving factor for people remaining under the same roof, with nearly half (47%) saying they simply couldn’t afford to move out.
Lizzie Cooper, 43, who works as a PA in London, says she ended up living with her ex-fiancé for seven months after they split. Their relationship ended several years ago, in what Cooper describes as an amicable break-up, and their flat was put on the market.
After an initial offer fell through, Cooper says: “It took about a month or two to find another buyer and then a few more months for me to complete on the flat that I’d found to move into.
“Luckily we had two bedrooms, so we were able to have some space,” Cooper adds. “And we had holidays during that time, so we weren’t living in each other’s pockets the entire time.”
Lizzie Cooper says she’s found a home in her current place with dog Morris (Lizzie Cooper/PA)
Discussing how she was able to resolve the situation, she explains: “I have a very traditional family who had saved up money for the wedding, being the parents of the bride. This meant I was able to use that money to help find a new home.
“It was a long seven months and it’s still a sad story,” Cooper admits. “Although, I do now walk past the old flat without any kind of tug on the heartstrings and have definitely found a home in my current place with my dog Morris, and love the freedom and independence living on my own brings.”
Zoopla’s research also found that a third of people had no savings at all when they broke up. A fifth had planned ahead by having an ‘escape fund’ – a separate bank account, specifically for savings to enable them to start over after a relationship breakdown. The average amount these contained was found to be £5,586.
£5,586 Average 'escape fund' amount
In general, several factors may affect the assets that either person is entitled to walk away with following a break-up, including whether they are married or cohabiting, and who is named on documents related to the property – and so it may be useful to take legal advice.
Some housing market experts have said they expect to see falls in house prices in 2023. This could make break-ups more challenging in cases where a property is now worth less than the amount previously borrowed to buy it – otherwise known as negative equity.
Nick Neill, managing director of estate and letting agency EweMove, says: “It’s always stressful when a relationship comes to an end, and this can be made more challenging if there is any negative equity involved when it comes to selling a home – although it can be somewhat less painful if there is some excess cash to share when the transaction is complete.”
He says who owns what could depend on several factors, adding: “Assuming you own 50% each [or whatever share you specified] then the distribution of the sales assets is simple.
“However, it’s also worth bearing in mind that both parties could be jointly and severally liable for the mortgage, so if one party defaults on their share of the mortgage payments, it can affect the other party both from a month-to-month cashflow perspective but can also impact their credit rating if a default takes place. Without a doubt, a quick and non-confrontational sale is in both parties’ interests – not only emotionally – but financially too.”
There can be a lot to sort out when couples who own their home split up (Alamy/PA)
James Jones, Experian’s head of consumer affairs, adds: “We should all regularly review our credit reports to make sure they reflect the facts, especially when personal circumstances change.
“For example, if you’ve recently exited a relationship where your finances were linked – such as by a joint current account, personal loan or mortgage that has since been closed – then unless you take action, your credit reports will stay linked.
“You can easily rectify this by submitting a ‘financial disassociation’ from your former partner to each of the three main credit reference agencies, which will make sure your future credit applications are no longer be affected by their finances.”
Experian has more information about shared finances on their website (experian.co.uk). Zoopla has also created a guide on how to navigate dealing with a jointly-owned home in the case of a break-up at, which can be found on their website (zoopla.co.uk).