The Family Home and Property Transactions-The Essentials


The Family Home Protection Act, 1976 prevents one spouse, in whose sole name the family home was vested, from dealing with the property without the knowledge and/or consent of the non-owning spouse.

There is no differentiation between husband or wife and section 3(1) Family Home Protection Act, 1976 states:

3.—(1) Where a spouse, without the prior consent in writing of the other spouse, purports to convey any interest in the family home to any person except the other spouse, then, subject to subsections (2) and (3) and section 4, the purported conveyance shall be void.
(2) Subsection (1) does not apply to a conveyance if it is made by a spouse in pursuance of an enforceable agreement made before the marriage of the spouses.
(3) No conveyance shall be void by reason only of subsection (1)—
(a) if it is made to a purchaser for full value,
(b) if it is made, by a person other than the spouse making the purported conveyance referred to in subsection (1), to a purchaser for value, or
(c) if its validity depends on the validity of a conveyance in respect of which any of the conditions mentioned in subsection (2) or paragraph (a) or (b) is satisfied.
(4) If any question arises in any proceedings as to whether a conveyance is valid by reason of subsection (2) or (3), the burden of proving that validity shall be on the person alleging it.
(5) In subsection (3), “full value” means such value as amounts or approximates to the value of that for which it is given.
(6) In this section, “purchaser” means a grantee, lessee, assignee, mortgagee, chargeant or other person who in good faith acquires an estate or interest in property.
(7) For the purposes of this section, section 3 of the Conveyancing Act, 1882, shall be read as if the words “as such” wherever they appear in paragraph (ii) of subsection (1) of that section were omitted.

So, the prior written consent of any non-owning spouse must be obtained prior to any conveyance of the family home since 1976. (Note: ‘conveyance’ includes mortgage)

However, section 54 of the Family Law Act, 1995 imposes a six year time limit within which proceedings must be taken by the non-owning spouse to have a conveyance declared void:

Proceedings shall not be instituted to have a conveyance declared void by reason only of subsection (1) after the expiration of 6 years from the date of the conveyance.


There are four exceptions provided for in section 3(1) above:

  • Agreements made in contemplation of marriage
  • Conveyance to a bona fide purchaser for full value (the purchaser must act in good faith-this means that the purchaser must make proper and reasonable enquiries and inspections to ascertain the position. This means that a solicitor acting for a purchaser must carry out all necessary investigations to clarify the position concerning the family home. Failure to do so will leave his client open to a challenge from the non-owning spouse)
  • Conveyance of an interest by a person/body other than a spouse (eg mortgagee bank/lender)
  • Where a Court orders the sale of the home in a judicial separation.

What is a Family Home?

A family home is defined in section 2 Family Home Protection Act, 1976 is a dwelling in which a married couple ordinarily resides. However a family home also includes the former residence of a couple who are separated as well as the current home of a married couple.

It also includes a dwelling in which a spouse is residing having been forced to leave the family home by the other spouse.

2.—(1) In this Act “family home” means, primarily, a dwelling in which a married couple ordinarily reside. The expression comprises, in addition, a dwelling in which a spouse whose protection is in issue ordinarily resides or, if that spouse has left the other spouse, ordinarily resided before so leaving.
(2) In subsection (1) “dwelling” means—
(a) any building, or
(b) any structure, vehicle or vessel (whether mobile or not),
or part thereof, occupied as a separate dwelling and includes any garden or portion of ground attached to and usually occupied with the dwelling or otherwise required for the amenity or convenience of the dwelling.

Prior Written Consent

Where the property being sold is jointly owned by a married couple, no spousal consent is required to a conveyance.

The spousal consent must be prior to the purported conveyance and be in writing.

It is also important that the consent is informed-the spouse must know what he/she is consenting to.

The need for spousal consent can be dispensed with by a Court in certain circumstances (section 4(1), Family Home Protection Act, 1976)

4.—(1) Where the spouse whose consent is required under section 3 (1) omits or refuses to consent, the court may, subject to the provisions of this section, dispense with the consent.
(2) The court shall not dispense with the consent of a spouse unless the court considers that it is unreasonable for the spouse to withhold consent, taking into account all the circumstances, including—
(a) the respective needs and resources of the spouses and of the dependent children (if any) of the family, and
(b) in a case where the spouse whose consent is required is offered alternative accommodation, the suitability of that accommodation having regard to the respective degrees of security of tenure in the family home and in the alternative accommodation.
(3) Where the spouse whose consent is required under section 3 (1) has deserted and continues to desert the other spouse, the court shall dispense with the consent. For this purpose, desertion includes conduct on the part of the former spouse that results in the other spouse, with just cause, leaving and living separately and apart from him.
(4) Where the spouse whose consent is required under section 3 (1) is incapable of consenting by reason of unsoundness of mind or other mental disability or has not after reasonable inquiries been found, the court may give the consent on behalf of that spouse, if it appears to the court to be reasonable to do so.

Generally, this occurs where a spouse is unreasonably withholding consent.

The Family Home Protection Act, 1976, the Judicial Separation and Family Law Reform Act, 1989 and the Family Law (Divorce) Act, 1996  grant powers to Court to deal with the family home which it does by way of property adjustment orders and/or orders for the sale of the family home.

A Court also has power, pursuant to section 5, Family Home Protection Act, 1976 to make any order in relation to the property where it is of the view that the conduct of one spouse could lead to the loss of the family home.

Where a Court makes any property adjustment order in respect of the property in a divorce or judicial separation, the Registrar of the Court is obliged to register the order as a burden on the folio with Land Registry or in the Registry of Deeds.