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Can my partner force me to sell our house?

View profile for Philip Hoddell
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We are often asked what happens to a jointly owned house when an unmarried couple separates.  As all family lawyers know, it is possible to force a sale of a property under the Trusts of Land and Appointment of Trustees Act 1996, but what happens when one owner wants to buy out the other’s interest? A recent case in the High Court has shed some light on the powers of the court in such circumstances.  
Mr and Mrs Chaston owned a property in Wales which, in due course, their four children inherited in equal shares. One of the daughters sold her quarter share to one of her brothers, who then owned half the house, with his other sister and brother each owning a quarter. He then wanted to acquire the whole property and although the others wanted to sell it, they did not want to sell it to him, thinking they might get a better price on the open market.  
At the trial, there was evidence that the quarter share owners had previously agreed to sell the property to their brother at a value to be determined and then changed their minds when a better offer came along. They claimed the court had its normal power to order a sale of the property, but no power to order them to sell their shares to one of the other co-owners. The court disagreed, concluding that the relevant act gave the judge a much wider discretion than the owners themselves might have, and although ordering the sale to one of the owners was unusual, and ordinarily there would be a sale on the open market, the order was not such that it could be said to be outside of the powers of the court.  
This case is going to be useful in a situation where both owners want to sell, but one is willing and able to buy out the other’s interest at market value and the other is being deliberately difficult and not wanting their former partner to retain the property.  
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