United Kingdom

My abusive ex partner is threatening to sue me for half my flat

My ex-partner is threatening to take me to court for half of my flat.

I own the flat, the mortgage is in my name, he never paid any rent and lived with me for four years.

He is not allowed to contact me due to domestic abuse but is instead contacting my parents in an attempt to intimidate me. What should I do?

Threat: My abusive ex-partner says he is taking me to court for half my flat, though it's mine and he never paid rent (Stock image)

Tanya Jefferies, of This is Money, replies: I am really sorry to hear about your situation, which must be very worrying and stressful.

To assist, we asked a lawyer to explain what you can do to protect yourself and your parents from intimidation, and the legal issues regarding ownership of your flat.

Hopefully, this will be of help and some comfort to you and your parents.

Please note, we have assumed you are not married to your ex-partner since you do not mention this. If you are married to him, the business of splitting assets in a divorce is different and you should consult a lawyer who can help you personally.

Philip Cooper, partner at JMW Solicitors, replies:  I am sorry to hear that you have been a victim of abuse. 

I assume the police have imposed restrictions on your ex-partner preventing him from contacting you.

It may be that those restrictions also include contacting members of your family. 

Either way, the first thing you should do is report his behaviour to the police or indeed encourage your parents to do so.

What else can you do to protect yourself and your family?

Philip Cooper: Cohabitants or former cohabitants do not have the same rights to make property claims as married couples

I would also advise that a letter is sent to your ex-partner warning him that if he does not stop contacting your parents, you will make an application to the court for an injunction against him.

You can seek legal advice and get a lawyer to do this on your behalf if you wish, and think it is more likely to be effective.

If this does not succeed in getting him to modify his behaviour, you should consider making an application to the court for a Non Molestation Order, and if you do move on to this step it would be best to get legal advice.

The court has a wide discretion on whether to grant such an order and must be satisfied that:

1. There is evidence of molestation going on;

2. You need protection;

3. Judicial intervention is required to control your ex-partner's behaviour.

'Molestation' implies some quite deliberate conduct which is aimed at a high degree of harassment of the other party, so as to justify the intervention of the court.

Violence is not a prerequisite and there does not need to be some direct interaction between your ex-partner and you.

It is sufficient if the conduct is deliberate and that it has the consequence of causing or being likely to cause distress or harassment to you.

It appears therefore that you may well be successful in obtaining a Non Molestation Order against your ex-partner. 

Does your ex-partner have a claim on your flat?

As you refer to your ex-partner, I am assuming that you were not married. However, if you were then there are other matters we would need to consider to establish if your ex-partner could be successful in pursing financial claims against you.

Cohabitants or former cohabitants do not have the same rights to make property claims as married couples.

Instead, disputes between cohabitants regarding their interests in a property are determined in accordance with the law of trusts.

Despite what many people believe, the 'common law' husband or wife does not exist in law and claims by cohabitants are limited in comparison with spouses.

You have not mentioned having entered into an express written declaration of trust declaring in what shares you hold the property.

If there is no express trust and your ex-partner wishes to claim a beneficial interest in your flat, then he must establish one of the following:

1. He contributed in money or money's worth to the purchase of the flat, and that there was a common intention to hold the beneficial interest in the flat in proportion to your contributions;

2. He can show that there was a common intention that he should have a beneficial interest in the flat and that he has acted to his detriment on this basis;

3. You have led him, either by your words or your conduct, to believe that he has a beneficial interest in the flat and as a consequence he has acted to his detriment, making it unreasonable for you to insist that you have total beneficial ownership of the flat.

Given what you say about him having paid no rent and given it appears he has made no other major financial contributions into the flat, it appears he has no realistic prospect of bringing a successful claim.

If despite the weakness in his case he brought proceedings against you, he may ultimately find himself not only paying his own legal costs, but also being ordered to pay your legal costs too.

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