Ex-partner wants house sold years after he stopped paying mortgage

Q&A: Time may work to your advantage but you need legal advice

My ex-partner and I jointly owned the house I live in. However, our relationship broke down, he left the country and is not paying the mortgage for almost 10 years. I live in the house, paying all the bills and the mortgage. I have never missed a payment.

I tried to get mortgage in my own name. However, back then, the property was still in negative equity and there was no hope of a mortgage. Two years ago, I tried again but, due to Covid, everything was put on hold.

I have since married and we live in the house together and with our two-year-old.

Now, my ex-partner told me that, if I won’t be able to remove his name on mortgage to expect his solicitor’s letter? He never mentioned what he wants but I guess now he wants something from me? What can he get from me? Can he actually force for a sale when he was the one [who] stopped the payment which is his responsibility too?


I keep trying to get my mortgage with my own name and add my husband. However, my company is still under the EWSS [Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme] so banks refused. The bank said I will have to wait when my employer is off the scheme before they can put in the application. I'm just worried about my family, my child.

Ms F.T., email

This is a more common issue than many people realise. Especially during the Celtic Tiger years when there was so much pressure to “get on the housing ladder”, friends and partners regularly teamed up to buy properties that they could not have secured in their own names.

And banks, while willing to lend the money back then with only the slightest nod to risk assessment, if any at all, made sure that all buyers’ names were on the loan. If things went wrong, the banks wanted to be sure they could go after everyone connected with the loans which is standard practice to be fair.

With the recession, the passing of time or, as in this case, the break-up of a relationship, many people found themselves either with mortgages they could not afford to meet or properties in negative equity that would leave them at a loss if they were forced to sell.

As a result, many simply put off such decisions.

The situation you have found yourself in – where a partner simply stops paying the mortgage and heads off to create their new life – is far from unusual. What is interesting in your case is that you say you have a document signed by your former partner and dated formally stating that they will no longer contribute to the mortgage from that date – more than 10 years ago.

It’s all very easy for the likes of me to suggest that homeowners should have taken the time back then to get the affairs in order and have a solicitor draw up a legal agreement to reflect their decisions; unfortunately, life is never that simple or organised – especially when relationships are falling apart.

It is no use to you at this point, but it is worth remembering for anyone who finds themselves in such a position in the future. It really does make it less messy for both parties.

Very unlucky

So much for the ideal, what now?

You have been dreadfully unlucky. Although you have made sure you had the money to meet the mortgage payments, negative equity and, subsequently, Covid have conspired to ensure you could not get a mortgage in your own name.

Your experience with the the Employee Wage Subsidy Scheme (EWSS) is, unfortunately common. Through no decision of yours, your employer has decided to avail of the scheme – not unreasonably as their own revenue will have dropped substantially. The employer, like all others, presumably hopes trading will return to normal once the pandemic and its associated restrictions end but that's the issue, there's no certainty.

And as a result, none of the banks is allowing people to draw down mortgages where their employers are on Covid State supports. Various lenders have been suggesting they are open to it but the conditions set down effectively rule it out.

So, yes, you will not be able to get a mortgage until your employer gets off the EWSS. And the banks may want to see several months of trading thereafter to make sure they can survive without the support.

But there are grounds for hope.

First, although your former partner is clearly frustrated, he has yet to move beyond that to take action. These legacy loans have a way of coming back to haunt people, normally when they go about trying to borrow again. It may be that he is trying to secure a home loan elsewhere and has been rejected on the grounds that his name is still attached to this mortgage.

Essentially you both want the same thing. You’ve been trying to remortgage over several years to get his name off the loan and he wants done with it.

If he does pursue you via a solicitor, there are several approaches he might take. He might demand you remove their name from the mortgage and, if that is not possible, that you sell the property to pay off the loan.

But he could also demand a share of the property.

Could he force a sale? Possibly. That would be for the courts to decide but, even if he could, that would take years to resolve so it is not an immediate threat.

It would be advisable for you to talk to a solicitor to clarify how best to counter any such demands or, indeed, any legal letter. One thing for sure, don’t ignore it.

Timing favours you

You do have time on your side. If he does follow through on the threat of a formal legal letter, the very slow clock that is the Irish legal system starts ticking. These things take many months, even years, to reach resolution.

Meantime, the EWSS scheme is due to be wound up in April. My guess is that it will be extended but the Government will be keen to get its finances back to normal as soon as possible so, in the absence of another variant, the likelihood is that State supports will be phased out over the summer, at least for most sectors.

Then there's your credit history. You've been paying this mortgage successfully on your own for a decade and will also have built up some equity in the property over recent years. So once banks are back open for mortgage business to you, getting the mortgage moved into your name should be reasonably straightforward. I'm assuming, given your previous efforts, that you can meet the mortgage rules – or close enough to merit an exemption.

Given the urgency from your point of view, it might be an idea to consider engaging a mortgage broker once your company is off the EWSS. The system is obviously the same regardless, but brokers tend to speak the banks’ language, they know what they want and how best to present applications and to whom. It might just expedite the process for you.

In some ways, it is positive that your ex-partner is in touch on the issue because the bank might want confirmation from him that he accedes to the loan being moved into your sole name. Given his current enthusiasm to sort this out, you or your legal adviser should be better positioned to get the necessary legally-tight agreement from him so that it is to hand should the issue arise.

Finally, you have this signed document from your ex-partner. That should ensure, at worst, that he does not get to claim any share of what is now the home of you and your new family above what they contributed to in the early years of the loan if the property were sold.

Given the pace at which things happen in the Irish legal system and the reluctance of the courts to force people out of family homes, I would be hopeful that you should have the time to get your affairs in order and the mortgage transferred to your own name – even if it does involve an unwelcome amount of stress for you and your family over much of this year.

Please send your queries to Dominic Coyle, Q&A, The Irish Times, 24-28 Tara Street, Dublin 2, or by email to dcoyle@irishtimes.com. This column is a reader service and is not intended to replace professional advice.