Legal advice with Karen Walsh: Can my boyfriend take my farm?

Dear Karen,

I have been living with my boyfriend for two years in my family home, which belongs to me, and is on the family farm.

My father, who is still alive, transferred the farm and his family home to me.

He has a right to be maintained out of the land, and also lives with us.

I am the sole worker on the farm, my boyfriend has been unemployed for several years, and I have been supporting both of us and my father, since he quit his job.

He has never contributed financially to the farm.

He has always threatened that in the event of a breakdown in our relationship, whenever we go through a bad patch, he will take my home, or the farm, and lately I fear things are going that way.

What is the position if we were to break up?

Dear Reader,

I am sorry to hear this.

It is a genuine concern for people nowadays, and you do not have to be married, any longer, for an ex-partner to have rights over your property etc.

As people tend to wait until they are older to get married, more and more are cohabiting. It is wise for those with valuable assets to obtain a pre-nuptial agreement prior to getting married, but very few people enter into one, and they are still not legally recognised in Ireland, even if you put an agreement in place.

Living together is a grey area. Often, people enter into cohabitation without the same amount of consideration of the potential financial consequences as in marriage.

To protect the family farm and their livelihood, cohabiting farmers should be aware of what can happen if a relationship breaks down.

The rights of cohabiting couples are set out in The Civil Partnership and Certain Rights and Obligations of Cohabitants Act 2010.

Section 172(5) confirms that a cohabiting couple must have lived together in a committed and intimate relationship for five years, or two years if they have children together.

The person seeking to have rights recognised must be financially dependent on the other person.

The court must take many factors into account, including the financial circumstances of the cohabitants, the duration and degree of commitment of the relationship, contributions (financial or otherwise) by the cohabitants to the relationship, and the conduct of the cohabitants, in deciding on the rights and obligations of cohabitants.

In this case, you do not mention whether you and your boyfriend have children together. If you do not, your boyfriend does not satisfy the definition of a qualified cohabitant, meaning he would not be entitled to the various financial reliefs under the legislation, because you are not living together five years.

It would be prudent, if the relationship breaks down, that you give a detailed history of the relationship to a solicitor, and they can advise you in detail.

If you and your boyfriend live together in a committed and intimate relationship for five years, he will certainly become a qualified cohabitant, and would be entitled at the very least to apply for various reliefs through the courts, such as property adjustment orders, and can order the sale of property, payment of lump sums etc.

This may sound a bit cold, but it is a practical point.

If you feel the relationship is not working, then it would be wiser to end it sooner rather than later.

It could save you a lot of money and headaches later.

Karen Walsh, from a farming background, is a solicitor practicing in Walsh & Partners, Solicitors, 17, South Mall, Cork (021-4270200), and author of ‘Farming and the Law’. Walsh & Partners also specialises in personal injury claims, conveyancing, probate and family law.

- Email: info@walshandpartners.ie

- Web: www.walshandpartners.ie

While every care is taken to ensure accuracy of information contained in this article, solicitor Karen Walsh does not accept responsibility for errors or omissions howsoever arising, and you should seek legal advice in relation to your particular circumstances at the earliest possible time.

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