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Ex Ignoring Court Order To Sell House

When a relationship ends and the court orders the sale of a jointly owned home, emotions can run high.

But what happens if your ex refuses to comply? The consequences of ignoring a court order, which is a formal declaration issued by a judge or magistrate with the force of law, can be severe. 

In this article, we will delve into the complexities of court-ordered house sales, outlining the legal repercussions for non-compliance and providing practical steps to navigating this challenging situation.

What happens if an ex ignores court order to sell house

If an ex ignores a court order to sell a house, especially if it is jointly owned, the consequences can be severe. Initially, the court may issue a penal notice, a formal warning that highlights the potential for contempt for court charges if the order continues to be ignored. 

Contempt of court is a serious offence. If found guilty, your non-compliant ex could face fines, asset seizure (bank accounts, investments, property), or even imprisonment. The maximum sentence for a contempt of court in the UK is two years imprisonment. However, the actual sentence imposed will depend on the severity of the breach. 

The court has various tools at its disposal to enforce the order, such as appointing a receiver to oversee the sale or issuing an order for the property’s forced sale. A receiver is an independent person appointed by the court to take control of the property and manage its sale. 

Moreover, the party seeking to enforce the order can pursue further legal action. This may involve applying for a contempt of court order against the ex, potentially leading to even harsher penalties like imprisonment, community service or suspension of driving licence. 

But, it’s important to remember that the specific consequences will differ based on the individual case. 

How long does it take for a court to force the sale of a house?

The time it takes for a court to force the sale of a house can vary depending on several factors. In relatively straightforward cases where both parties are cooperative, the process might take a few months. However, if there are disputes or complications, such as disagreements about the property’s value, the extent of one party’s legal interest in the property or the involvement of children, the process can be considerably longer, potentially lasting a year or more. 

Factors that can influence the timeline include the court’s workload, the complexity of the case and the responsiveness of the parties involved. In cases where one party is deliberately delaying the process, the court may take action to speed up the sale, but this can still add time to the overall timeline.

If a quick sale is necessary, for instance due to financial hardship or domestic abuse, it may be possible to request an expedited hearing. However, this requires providing the court with a compelling reason for urgency and providing supporting evidence, such as medical records, financial statements or police reports. The court will then decide whether the circumstances warrant an expedited hearing based on the specific facts of the case.

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How do I apply for court order to sell house?

How do I apply for a court order to sell my house?

If you find yourself in a situation where you need to sell a jointly owned property but your co-owner refuses, you can apply for a court order to force the sale. The first step is to seek legal advice from a solicitor specialising in litigation with experience dealing with property. They will assess your situation and guide you through the process.

If you are beneficial joint tenants, and own less than 50%, you will need to first sever the joint tenancy. This involves writing to the other party and lodging an application with Land Registry. Following severance, you will then hold the property as beneficial tenants in common and each of the joint owners are, as a matter of law, entitled to an equal share of the equity as tenants in common. This also effects how the property in inherited on your death.

The next step is to apply for a Charging Order. This involves submitting an application to the County Court, detailing the reasons why a Charging Order is necessary, and how you have accounted for each party’s equity in the property. If the Charging Order is granted, you will need to register it with Land Registry. 

Once your Charging Order is registered with the Land Registry, you will have an option to await the sale of the property upon which the relevant proceeds will be distributed to you. Alternatively, you can apply for an Order for Sale. This will likely require attending a Hearing where circumstances will be considered. 

If the court is satisfied with your arguments, they will issue a court order for the sale of the property. This order will outline the terms of the sale, including the distribution of proceeds. If the other party fails to comply with the court order, you will need to take further legal action to enforce it. 

How much does it cost?

The cost of applying for a court order to sell a house in the UK will vary depending on the legal fees, court fees and any additional costs you may need to take on, like litigation costs:

  • Legal fees: Your solicitor fees will vary widely, but it’s not uncommon for them to range from £2,000 to £5,000 or more if the other part heavily contests the application. 

  • Court fees: The court fee for applying for an Charging Order is £131, further fees will also be applicable dependent on the route taken thereafter.

The additional costs when applying for an Order for Sale could include valuation fees, expert witness fees, Land Registry fees, litigation costs and other disbursements which all add up significantly.

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How does a court order work?

A court order is a legally binding decision made by a judge or magistrate. It sets out specific instructions or requirements that individuals in a legal case must follow. The content of court order varies depending on the nature of the case, but it typically includes details about the rights and responsibilities of each party.

How does it work?

  1. Issuance: The court issues the order after considering the evidence and arguments presented during a hearing or trial. 

  2. Notification: The parties involved are typically notified of the order in writing, and it becomes legally binding upon receipt. 

  3. Compliance: Both parties are expected to comply with the terms of the order. Failure to do so can have serious consequences, such as fines, asset seizure or even imprisonment for contempt of court.

  4. Enforcement: If one party fails to comply with the order, the other party can apply to the court to enforce it. The court may take various enforcement measures, depending on the nature of the order and the circumstances.

In the context of a court order to sell a house, the order would typically specify the reasons for the sale, terms of the sale and the distribution of proceeds. And, if one party like your ex refuses to comply with the order, then the other party can apply to the courts for enforcement.


Alice and John, an unmarried couple from Durham who have two young children, decided to separate. During their cohabitation, they jointly purchase a property that became their family home. After the separation, disputes arose regarding the property’s future, as John wanted to sell it to move on with his life, while Alice wished to remain in the familiar environment for the sake of the children.

Due to the impasse, John sought legal counsel and applied to the court for an order under the Trusts of Land and Appointment of Trustees Act 1996. Recognising the need to safeguard the children’s welfare, the court granted a life interest in the property to Alice and the children, allowing them to remain in the home until the youngest child reaches 18. However, a charge was placed on the property in John’s favour, entitling him to a share of the property’s value upon its eventual sale. 

Despite the court’s ruling, Alice became uncooperative, refusing to communicate with estate agents tasked with valuing the property for the charge calculation. She claimed she would appeal the decision, but no formal appeal was filed, leaving John frustrated and uncertain about his next steps.

John consulted his solicitor again, who advised him on the enforcement options available. The solicitor suggested reporting Alice’s non-compliance to the court, which could lead to further orders and penalties if she continued to disregard the court’s decision.

Following the solicitor’s advice, John informed Alice of her non-compliance and the potential consequences, emphasising the importance of adhering to the court’s ruling. He also reiterated his willingness to cooperate and find a solution that respects the well-being of their children while also protecting his own interests. 

The possible outcomes of this may be:

  • Alice complies: Alice could choose to cooperate with the estate agents to finalise the valuation and ensure the charge is calculated accurately.

  • Alice appeals: Alice could formally appeal the court’s decision, but she would need to provide strong grounds for her cases, such as a change in circumstances or legal errors in the original ruling.

  • Court enforcement: If Alice persists in her non-compliance, John could pursue enforcement action through the court, potentially leading to fines or other penalties for Alice. 

This case study illustrates the complexities involved in resolving property disputes after cohabitation, especially when children are involved. It emphasises the importance of legal guidance and open communication to ensure fair outcomes that prioritise the welfare of all parties while upholding the rule of law. 

Helpful links

If you find yourself in a similar situation to Alice and John, or you are trying to sell a house and no children are involved, then here are some helpful links:

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What are the different types of court orders?

In the context of house sales, several types of court orders can be issued. Common examples include an Order for Sale, which mandates the sale of the property, a Mesher Order, which delays the sale until a specific event like a child reaching adulthood, and a Charging Order, which secures a creditor’s interest in the property.

What are the legal consequences if you ignore the court?

Ignoring a court order to sell a house is considered a contempt of court, a serious offence with significant legal consequences. These can range from fines and asset seizure to even imprisonment. The court has the authority to enforce the sale through various means, including appointing a receiver or issuing a forced sale order.

How can estate agents help in a court ordered property sale?

Estate agents can play an important role in court-ordered property sales as they ensure compliance with regulations and codes set by relevant authorities, ensuring a fair and transparent sale process. Their expertise in property valuations, marketing and negotiation can help streamline the house sale, even under challenging circumstances.

Can I sell my house without communicating with my ex?

Selling a house without communicating with your ex-partner is generally not advisable when a court order is involved. Open communication is crucial to ensure compliance with the order and avoid further legal complications. Collaboration on decisions can help facilitate a smoother process and minimise potential conflicts.

How can I make my sale with my ex as easy as possible?

To make the sale with your ex as easy as possible, prioritise open and respectful communication. Seek legal advice to understand your rights and obligations. Consider involving a mediator to facilitate productive discussions and reach mutually agreeable solutions. Focus on the shared goal of selling the property and moving forward can also help alleviate stress and foster cooperation.

Tom Condon

Tom Condon, one of our content writers, has fascinating expertise in sustainability in the property industry. Tom thoroughly understands the market and has experience in both residential and commercial property. He enjoys attending conferences and staying current with the most recent property trends.