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The Barbie movie has achieved huge box office success since its release. It explores the challenges women face in the real world and brings various legal issues to the surface, which may require advice from a family solicitor.

In the film, Barbie leaves Barbie World to visit the real world.  Ken takes over the fictional ‘Barbieland’ and turns it into his own idealised version of society, known as ‘Kendom’. As part of this, he takes over the Barbie dream house – where Barbie had lived – and changes the locks, making it ‘his own house’.

If this happened in the real world, what could Barbie do? Could she use a family solicitor to reclaim her property and move back into her dream house?

The respective rights that cohabiting and married couples have to regain access to their homes differs in real life.

Cohabiting couples living together

In the real world, there has been an increase in couples who choose to live together without getting marriage or entering into a civil partnership. There have also been marriages that have taken place on a ceremonial basis only, due to religious practices, and do not have the blanket protection of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973.

If Barbie and Ken were living together in the Barbie dream house, as boyfriend and girlfriend, and the house was owned by them jointly or under a joint tenancy agreement, Ken would not be legally entitled to change the locks to exclude Barbie from the property.

If the property was legally in Ken’s name, and Barbie had been living there with him as his girlfriend or ceremonial wife, in the dream house, Barbie could make an application to the court for an Occupation Order in reliance of the Family Law Act 1996.

The court would assess the harm likely to be caused to either Barbie or Ken because of the Order being made. In doing so, they would ask:

  • whether Barbie is likely to suffer significant harm attributable to conduct of Ken if the Order is not made;
  • whether the harm likely to be suffered by Ken if the Order is made is as great as or greater than the harm attributable to conduct of Ken which is likely to be suffered by Barbie if the Order is not made; and
  • whether Ken is likely to suffer harm from Barbie as a result of her conduct towards him.

If the court found that Barbie would suffer significant harm that is greater than any harm Ken would suffer, the court would consider making the Occupation Order. The court would have general discretion and, in considering whether an Order is appropriate, would look at all the circumstances including the parties’ respective financial resources; housing needs; the conduct of each party to each other; and the impact the Order would have. The nature and length of the relationship would also be relevant.

If made, the Order would state how long its terms are in place. The court may also apply the power of arrest to the Occupation Order pursuant to section 47 of the Family Law Act 1996 if there is a threat of violence. A family solicitor can assist you in deciding if and how to apply this.

Occupation Orders are not straightforward to obtain, and it is important to take legal advice as to the merits of the case before an application is made.

Married couples and home rights

If Barbie and Ken were married, whether the marriage took place in the UK or abroad – even if the house title or tenancy was in Ken’s name, Barbie would have a legal right to go back into the house; she automatically has “Home Rights”.

Home Rights are available to any spouse when the property has been occupied as the matrimonial home. Home Rights do not apply to cohabiting couples so this would be an additional right available because of being married.

Barbie would have the following rights:

  • a right not to be evicted or excluded from the property, except with the leave of the court;
  • a right, if not in occupation, to enter and occupy the property;
  • a right to be given notice of any mortgage possession proceedings and, with leave of the court, to take part in those proceedings;
  • a right to register her Home Rights on the title of the property with the land registry.

The Home Rights act as a charge on the estate that will bind any third party who acquires the land. These rights would come to an end on divorce, death, or an order of the court.

Couples married abroad and living in together in the UK

Typically, courts in England and Wales recognise foreign marriages if the marriage is a legally recognised marriage in the country where you were married (this may include marriages formed by local customs); both parties had capacity to get married; and the marriage was permitted by the country. If one spouse is from a foreign country and the other is the UK resident the spousal visa that would have allowed the foreign spouse to enter the country validates the marriage in the UK.

How can you protect your house if you’re not married?

Whilst this article is intended to be light-hearted, the message is important. If you are considered moving in with someone and you are not named on the title deeds of the property (or you are the owner and you are letting someone live at your property), you should take legal advice on how to secure your living situation, even if it is only on a short-term basis.

At Jolliffes, we have a team of expert solicitors in Chester who are able to provide you with simple, legal advice.

If you would like to discuss your property/family issues, contact us today on 01244 310022 or at