The term occupation Order refers to an Order in which the court can decide who is or is not permitted to live in a home, regardless of who has the legal right to live in that property. An occupation Order can exclude one party from the property for a specified amount of time. This can be particularly relevant to women subject to domestic abuse.
In addition to regulating who is permitted to live in a property, an occupation Order can also determine who is responsible for paying the mortgage/rent and other associated costs.
What is an Occupation Order under the Family Law Act?
The basic principle of an occupation Order is that it enforces one’s right to stay in a family home whilst excluding another party from doing so; however, it can also achieve the following:
- Determine who lives in which sections of the property
- Provide the right to remain in the family property for a specified period of time
- Determine who must pay mortgage/rent and other associated costs
- Prohibit someone from entering the family property even if they are legally entitled to inhabit the space (e.g., excluding a violent or abusive family member)
- Impose a right to come back to the family property (e.g., after being locked out when you shouldn’t have been)
- Provide time to enable someone to consider their longer term living options
How Long Does an Occupation Order Last?
Depending on which section the Order is applied under, its length may vary. For instance, some Orders will be limited up to six months, whilst others will be in place for longer periods of time or until a specific event, e.g. until a divorce is finalised. In practice, occupation Orders are usually made for between 6 and 12 months.
Within the period of time the Order is made for, you will be expected to arrange the ownership of the property and other complications that need to be resolved. In certain circumstances, extensions may be granted; however, this is not always certain.
What Happens When an Occupation Order Ends?
Once the occupation Order ends, any liability that has been imposed by the Order will be ceased. This means that any party who has been excluded from the property by the terms of the Order is free to return to the property.
Applying for an Occupation Order in the UK
In Order to apply for an occupation Order, you must first be connected to the other party (“respondent”) in at least one of four circumstances:
- You are members of the same family
- You have had a physical relationship
- You have resided or intend to reside with one another in a familial capacity
- You have been married to or civil partners of one another or have decided to marry or enter into a civil partnership (this also applies to couples who are divorced or have obtained dissolution)
Contesting an Occupation Order
Should the other party contest the application for an occupation Order, directions may be made by the court about filing additional evidence and listing the matter for a contested hearing. At a contested hearing, a judge or bench of Magistrates will deliberate the evidence to determine whether or not the Order should be granted.
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