Family law and property transactions – unregistered land

As family lawyers, we work closely with colleagues in other teams to provide expertise to our clients going through relationship or marital break-up. This work could relate to company affairs, or ensuring our separating clients have their Wills and estate planning in order.

Such matters often involve our property team. In most relationship breakdowns there’s at least one property – usually the main family home – to be considered as part of the overall financial settlement. It could be that it is to be sold and the net proceeds divided between the parties, or it could be transferred to one of the parties. Our property colleagues assist us with these transactions.

Nearly all the transactions we deal with in the family team involve properties registered with the Land Registry, which holds a record of who owns the property, when it was purchased and whether there are any mortgages on it, as well as other information. This information is updated with each transaction relating to that property and does away with the need to retain title deeds. Occasionally, however, we come across land and properties not yet registered with the Land Registry and one I have worked on recently involved unregistered farmland and residential properties.

When land and properties are unregistered, the only documents available to prove ownership are the title deeds going back over many years, showing ownership passing from one owner to another. In this case, the land had been within one family for many years, albeit different members of the family over time. In addition, some of the land was divided between family members, and used for different agricultural purposes. Some land and property was rented out to individuals not connected with the family.

As a family lawyer, it was quite a task to consider the ‘lay of the land’ within the context of how best to achieve a settlement by dividing it to provide a proportion to the former spouse, while ensuring that our client – and his family still using it – wasn’t hindered in any way. We managed to settle the case before trial but it was certainly a team effort, and a case where expertise in family law and unregistered property was essential.