'My sister-in-law claims she's entitled to half of my land in her divorce'

Difficult times: Family law situations in a farming family can be particularly worrying
Difficult times: Family law situations in a farming family can be particularly worrying

Deirdre Flynn

Q My twin brother and I are aged 66 and live in south Tipperary in the heart of the Golden Vale. We grew up on a dairy farm of 300 acres and were left the land, divided equally between my brother and me.

As I never married, my brother agreed that I should live in the two-storey family home (our late parents' home), which, in its own right, is valued at €350,000.

My brother, who married and has two daughters, built his home in a field adjacent to where I live so that, if I needed help with anything as I have a physical disability, he would be close by.

Unfortunately, he and his wife are now proceeding with a divorce - my sister-in-law had an affair with a married man who has since left his wife and children for her. They have two girls, aged 16 and 17. My sister-in-law is demanding that she is entitled to half of the entire 300 acres of prime land, their home and half of mine, which is in the middle of the farm, and is in my brother's name as well as mine.

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She is also claiming that she is entitled to half of my income, which includes disability allowances, as she acted as my carer whenever I needed help.

Where do I legally stand?

A Family law situations in a farming family can be very worrying, particularly so in this situation where you farm with your brother.

You say the 300 acres was left between you both equally. You do not say whether you obtained the land as joint tenants or tenants in common in equal shares.

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When people hold property as joint tenants, it means that on the death of one of the owners, the surviving owner becomes the owner of the entire property.

When property is held as tenants in common in equal shares, it means that each owner has a distinct 50pc share and is free to leave that share to whomever they wish in their will.

It is important that you consult with your solicitor to ascertain exactly how you hold this property. This is important, not only for the purpose of your brother's family law proceedings, but when you are making a will dealing with your share of the property.

You say you resided in the family home, which remains in the names of you and your brother.

Consideration should be given to the family home in which you live - for example, did you make improvements to it and bear the cost of those yourself and so on? A detailed history should be given to your solicitor.

I note from your query that your sister-in-law is seeking half of the entire 300 acres, half of their home and yours, together with half of your income.

Your sister-in-law did not marry you, therefore she has no claim on anything you have.

Whether you hold the property as tenants in common or as joint tenants, your brother only owns half of the land etc.

Courts treat inherited property differently than if your brother and his wife bought the farm together during their marriage.

Courts consider a number of factors before they decide on a division of assets, but in farming situations, they do understand that family farms are passed down through generations and also, that sometimes to direct the sale of part of a farm could have serious consequences, such as to deny the farmer the ability to make a livelihood from the land.

In your case, the courts will also have to take cognisance of you, your livelihood and your inheritance.

Your sister-in-law is limited only to what property/income your brother has, and not yours.

You should consult with your solicitor to ascertain precisely how the property is held between you and your brother.

If family law proceedings commence, your brother will also have to confirm this and he will have to obtain valuations of the farm for the purpose of the proceedings, but it is vital that you obtain your own specific legal advices also.

The information in this article is intended as a general guide only. While every care is taken to ensure accuracy of information provided, Deirdre Flynn does not accept responsibility for errors or omissions howsoever arising. You should seek legal advice in relation to your particular circumstances at the earliest possible time.

Deirdre Flynn is from a farming background and practises as a solicitor at Deirdre Flynn Solicitors, 4 Ivy Terrace, Tralee, Co Kerry

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