How to deal with an ex who won't move on a home sale

A family law firm is warning ex-partners who refuse to move out of the marital home after a relationship breakdown that they could be in for a costly shock.In many cases following a split, regardless of whether a couple are married or cohabiting, both are forced into remaining under the same roof until the property can be sold.

Problems arise where one half of the couple is in no hurry to leave the property so seeks to drag out the process, making the split potentially even more acrimonious.

Lyn Ayrton of Lake Legal said: “An obstinate ex who refuses to co-operate can make the sale of a property very difficult. We regularly see a disgruntled ex who refuses to budge simply because it means moving into a less attractive property.

“Whether a couple is married or not they can make a court application which will force a home sale. One problem we increasingly see is where couples have already been to court and obtained a court order but one half refuses to co-operate with the sale.

“Just when one party thought they were bringing matters to an end with a court order having been obtained, it can be a real shock to find that may only be the first step to achieving a sale.”

Lyn advises that when faced with an ex who refuses to co-operate with a house sale the first thing to do is to ask the estate agents to write a letter confirming any difficulties they have encountered when entering the property – such as general mess and odd smells.

With this in mind, they should also be asked to stipulate the level at which any offer should be accepted.

“Once armed with a letter from the estate agents an application can be made to take an ex who is deliberately obstructing the sale back to court when the judge will place a lot of weight on what the agents are saying as the independent voice.

“A judge might say that the agents are to undertake all the viewings and the ex must vacate the property when a potential buyer is shown around, or that the ex does not get any say in the selling price. Although this process involves another court hearing, any additional costs incurred will usually

be made against the ex if they are shown to being deliberately difficult and hindering the sale of the home from going through. Sometimes the prospect of facing a sizeable costs order from the court can help get the sale moving again.”

Maggie and John had lived together for 30 years but never married. Their family home, which they held in joint names, had been bought in need of major renovation work. Their relationship broke down before the works were completed.

Maggie moved out into rented accommodation on the basis that John would complete the renovations and then the property would be sold. She also offered to borrow £20,000 so work could be finished. John was not interested and stayed put.

Lyne says: “We made an application under the Trust of Land and Appointment of Trustees Act 1996 and obtained an order for the house to be sold and the proceeds divided equally between the parties. After we obtained the order,  John had another change of heart and agreed that it made sense to complete the renovations in order to achieve the highest possible price for the property. Both parties contributed £10,000 and the house sold.”