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08th Oct 2019

You and your money: 4 things to consider when buying a house as an unmarried couple

Trine Jensen-Burke

Buying a house is one of the biggest commitments you can make, and traditionally, it would often be done in tandem with getting married. However, more and more couples in Ireland are choosing not to get married, or are leaving marriage until later in life.

The last Census in 2016 listed 152,302 couples as co-habiting, up 6% on the 2011 census. If you are one of these co-habiting couples, it’s important to know what your rights are, if you’re thinking about buying a house with your partner, as different rules may apply.

We recently asked the xperts at Augustus Cullen Law Solicitors about what things to consider if you are buying a house as an unmarried couple. And here are four things to consider before taking the plunge.

What is a co-habiting couple?

A co-habiting couple is defined as two adults who are living in a committed intimate relationship, with or without children, but are not married or in a civil partnership.

Cohabiting couples in Ireland often do not have the same legal protection or obligations as married couples or civil partners.

Buying the house

Unmarried couples who want to buy a house together can purchase the property in one of two ways:

      • Joint tenancy, where you both have equal right to possession of the entire property.
      • Tenancy in common, allows you as a couple to define the shares each person has, e.g. each person may own 50% of the house, or one person may own 30% and the other person 70%.

    When taking those first steps on the property ladder, it’s vital to set out in clear terms what kind of agreement you are entering into, as early as possible.

    Before you buy the property, it can be useful to create and agree a written co-ownership agreement. Both of you should get independent legal advice before it’s executed, to ensure that the provisions are fair to each of you. The co-ownership agreement would cover things such as how the mortgage is paid, the payment of utility bills, local property tax and management company charges, and would contain buyout provisions.

    Who inherits the house?

    While it’s not always nice to think about, it is really important to plan for what happens to the surviving partner, if one person passes away. That is the key difference between choosing a Joint Tenancy or a Tenancy in Common.

    A Joint Tenancy generally results in the surviving partner automatically inheriting the property, which provides valuable protection.

    With a Tenancy In Common agreement, a partner may choose to leave their share of the property to their cohabiting partner. However, this will only be enforced if this wish is directly stated in their will. Without a will in place, there is no protection for the surviving partner.

     What if one of us wants to sell the house?

    If an unmarried couple breaks up and they both own the property, they may choose to sell the property.

    One option is to divide the proceeds of the sale between each person, in line with what each contributed to the purchase of the property, its upkeep and maintenance, and payment of the mortgage and utility bills. Alternatively, one person could buy out the other, based on an agreed valuation. Of course, if there is a mortgage on the property, your bank must consent to such a buyout first.

    Cohabiting couples who are raising children do not have the same protections over the family home that the Family Home Protection Act 1976 gives to married couples. If a married couple breaks up, each spouse has the right to veto and prevent the sale of the family home. Both spouses need to agree to sell the home before a sale can go ahead. These rights also apply to civil partnerships.

    Cohabiting, unmarried partners don’t need to obtain written permission from both parties before the house can be sold. The person who owns the house may sell it at their discretion.


    Barbara Lydon is an Associate Solicitor in Augustus Cullen Law Solicitors’ Property Law Department.