Why is this important? The information we provide differs between countries. To get information for your country, please select from the dropdown.

Ending a relationship when you're living together

About this information

This information applies if you want to split up with someone you're living with. It applies whether you're gay, lesbian or heterosexual. It's not for people who are married or in a civil partnership.

If you are living with your partner and your relationship ends, you do not have to take any legal action to separate. However, there may be issues about children, housing, property and money to sort out. This can be done either by informal agreement or by making a written separation agreement.

If you have children, a court can make orders about who the children should live with and have contact with.

A court can also make an order about rights to stay in your home and selling any jointly-owned property.

If you are thinking of going to court to sort out disagreements about the children, money or housing, or if domestic abuse is involved, you should consult an experienced adviser, for example, a family law solicitor. Lists of solicitors can be obtained from your local Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your local CAB, including those that can give e-mail advice, click on nearest CAB. Another option could be to contact The Co-operative Legal Services, a private firm of solicitors specialising in family law.

More about The Co-operative Legal Services and how to contact them

Back to contents

Who to inform when your relationship ends

If you and your partner are separating, you may need to inform:

  • your landlord or housing office
  • your housing benefit office
  • your council tax office (England and Wales)
  • your local office of the Rates Collection Agency (Northern Ireland)
  • your mortgage lender
  • water, gas, electricity and telephone companies
  • your benefits office
  • your tax office, particularly if you're getting tax credits
  • current school and future school if you have children and they are moving
  • your bank or any other financial institution if you have a joint account. It may be advisable for you to freeze the account to prevent your partner withdrawing some or all of the money
  • hire purchase or credit companies
  • insurance companies, particularly if you have joint policies
  • the post office, if you want mail redirected
  • your doctor, dentist and child health clinic.

Back to contents

Separating with a separation agreement

A separation agreement is a written agreement between a couple who intend to stop living together. It sets out how you wish to sort out issues about money, property and arrangements for the children. Examples of things you might want to include in an agreement are:

  • not to molest, annoy or disturb your partner
  • to provide financial support (maintenance) for your partner. A separation agreement would normally say that maintenance will stop if your partner starts living with a different partner. There is no legal duty for one of you to financially support the other if you're not married or in a civil partnership
  • to provide financial support (maintenance) for any children of the relationship. Any agreement not to apply to a court or to the Child Support Agency or Child Maintenance Service in the future does not count legally
  • who the children should live and have contact with.

The advantage of a written agreement is that it's easier to make sure that you both understand what has been agreed. It also means that either of you can go to court to change the order at a future date. It is advisable to consult a solicitor when drawing up a separation agreement, but you should work out in advance the general areas you want to cover. This will reduce the legal costs. You may be able to get help with your legal costs.

For more information about help with legal costs, see Help with legal costs or, in Northern Ireland, Help with legal costs.

Back to contents

Children at the end of your relationship

At the end of a relationship, both parents are responsible for supporting their children financially regardless of where the children will live. Both parents are equally responsible even if they are not named on the child’s birth certificate. It doesn't matter whether they have got parental responsibility or not. Either parent can be contacted by the Child Support Agency or Child Maintenance Service for financial support.

If you are the child's father, you will not automatically have a right to a say in their future, even though you may be financially supporting them. This will depend on whether you have parental responsibility for your child.

Having parental responsibility means you share with your partner in the responsibility for your child's health, education and welfare.

If the father and mother were not married at the time of the birth of the child, the father will have parental responsibility if:

  • he registered or re-registered the birth jointly with the mother after 1 December 2003; or
  • he and the mother made a formal parental responsibility agreement; or
  • a court granted the father legal parental responsibility; or
  • he is appointed as guardian.

If you're the lesbian or gay partner of a child's parent, there are various ways in which you might have got parental responsibility for your partner's children.

For more information about parental responsibility, see Responsibility for children in Civil partnerships and living together – legal differences.

It is best if you and your partner can come to a friendly arrangement about the care of your children. This arrangement should include who your children will normally live with and how they will stay in touch with the other parent.

If you and your partner find it difficult to agree between yourselves, you can ask for help from a local family mediation service. Mediators are people who are trained to listen to both sides, and to help you and your partner agree on what will be best for yourselves and the children. To use this service, you both have to be willing to go along voluntarily. Any decisions you make there will not be legally binding.

If you and your partner can't reach agreement by yourselves, you can ask the courts to make the decision for you. However, the court will expect you to arrange a meeting with a family mediator first, before they will consider your application.

What decisions can a court make

A court will only make decisions about children if it feels it is in the best interests of the child to do so. A court can make decisions about:

  • who the child should live with ( this is called a residence order)
  • who the child should have contact with and what sort of contact it should be ( this is called a contact order)
  • whether the father should get parental responsibility of the child, if he doesn't already have this (this is called a parental responsibility order).

Residence order

The court can make a residence order in favour of:

  • one parent or partner. This means that the child must live with that parent or partner
  • both parents. One residence order can be made for both parents, even if they are not living together. The order will specify how much time the child will live with each parent
  • each parent or partner. Each parent or partner will have a separate order saying how much time the child will live with them.

Contact order

The court will normally expect you and your partner to make your own arrangements about maintaining contact with your children. The court will only make a court order if you can't agree.

The contact order may include conditions. It may also say what sort of contact you can have, for example, visiting, telephoning or writing letters. Orders can also be made to allow contact between the child and other relatives or friends.

If you are the father, you have a right to apply to the court for a contact order and will usually be granted one, except in exceptional circumstances.

For useful fact sheets about contact with children in England and Wales, visit the Coram Children's Legal Centre website at www.childrenslegalcentre.com and the Rights of Women website at www.rightsofwomen.org.uk.

Parental responsibility order

If you are the father and you don't already have parental responsibility, you can ask the court to grant you a parental responsibility order. A parental responsibility order gives you the right to keep up direct and regular contact with your child. It can be a good idea to apply to the court for both a contact order and a parental responsibility order at the same time. You may be able to get help with legal costs.

For more information about help with legal costs, see Help with legal costs or, in Northern Ireland, Help with legal costs.

If you are thinking of going to court about arrangements for children, you should consult an experienced adviser, for example, a family law solicitor or at a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by e-mail, click on nearest CAB.

For more information, in England and Wales, on how to make arrangements about your children when you split up with your partner, see Parents Apart on the Advicenow website at: www.advicenow.org.uk.

Back to contents

Financial arrangements at the end of a relationship

At the end of a relationship, both parents are responsible for supporting their children financially regardless of where the children will live. Both parents are equally responsible even if they are not named on the child’s birth certificate. It doesn't matter whether they have got parental responsibility or not. Either parent can be contacted by the Child Maintenance Service for financial support.

Neither you or your partner has a duty to maintain the other at the end of a relationship if you were not married or in a civil partnership.

Financial arrangements can be arranged:

  • by agreement
  • through the Child Maintenance Service
  • through the courts.

Agreeing on financial support

If you both agree to financial support, this is called a voluntary agreement or family-based arrangement. It can be written down or it could be a verbal agreement.

You can agree, for example, that one of you will make weekly payments to the other for the support of children, or will meet rent or mortgage payments, household bills, or pay for the children's clothing and holidays.

If you need advice on the options available for arranging child maintenance and for advice on how to set up a voluntary child maintenance agreement, you can contact the Child Maintenance Options Service. Their helpline number is: 0800 988 0988. You can also go to the Service's website at: www.cmoptions.org.

For more information about family-based arrangements, see How to make a family-based child maintenance arrangement.

Before you agree on a package of financial support, it may be useful to get legal advice about whether it is an appropriate arrangement. It may also be useful to have an agreement drawn up by a solicitor in case of future dispute. You might get help with the costs of making a voluntary agreement.

For more information about help with legal costs, in England and Wales see Help with legal costs and in Northern Ireland, see Help with legal costs.

Child Maintenance Service

If your relationship has ended and the children are living with you, you can use the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) to get financial support for your children. However, you don't have to use the CMS if you don't want to.

The CMS is the government child maintenance service that arranges maintenance for children under the 2012 Scheme.

For more information about getting financial support for your children through the CMS, see Child maintenance – where to start.

Court orders

In some circumstances, the court can make an order for financial support for the children. In most cases, the court will expect you to arrange a meeting with a family mediator first, before they will consider an application for a court order. The court cannot make an order for financial support for you or your partner.

A court can make an order for regular payments to be made for the children or a one-off lump sum.

If you apply to court for financial support for the children, you might be able to get help with the legal costs. However you may have to pay towards these costs from money or property you get as a result of the court action. This is called the statutory charge. Make sure your solicitor explains the statutory charge properly to you before you start court action.

For more information about help with legal costs, in England and Wales see Help with legal costs and in N Ireland, see Help with legal costs.

Back to contents

Housing rights at the end of a relationship

At the end of your relationship, a court can give you or your partner short-term rights to the home, for example:

  • the right to stay in your home
  • the right to come back home to get your things
  • the right to stop your partner from coming into the home.

If your partner has been violent to you, you might need help to make sure you are safe in your home, or have a safe place to stay.

For more information about help you can get if your partner has been violent to you, see Domestic violence.

A court can also make long-term arrangements about housing in certain cases where there are children.

In most cases, if you need to apply for a court order about housing, the court will expect you to arrange a meeting with a family mediator first, before they will consider your application.

If you are thinking of going to court about your housing rights after the breakdown of your relationship, you should consult an experienced adviser, for example, a family law solicitor or at a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by e-mail, click on nearest CAB.

Rights to the home for owner-occupiers

If you and your partner are owner-occupiers, it's possible that only one of you is the actual owner of the property. If your partner is the sole owner, you may have no right to stay in your home if your partner asks you to leave.

However, if you have children, you can ask the court to transfer the property into your name. The court will only do this if it decides it is in the best interests of your children.

If you don't have children, you may be able to claim a financial interest in your home if you can show you contributed financially by, for example, paying for improvements or towards mortgage repayments. If you have a financial interest in your home you might be able to stop your partner from selling it. You'll need to get legal advice about this. You could get help with legal costs.

If you do own your home jointly with your partner and you decide to leave, you should take steps to protect your right to go back there if you want to. You will also need to protect your share in the value of the home by making sure that your partner does not sell it without your knowledge. You will need to get legal advice about this. You could get help with legal costs.

For more information about help with legal costs, in England and Wales see Help with legal costs and in N Ireland, see Help with legal costs.

Paying the mortgage when a relationship breaks down

If a mortgage is in joint names, both people are jointly and solely liable for the mortgage payments. This is known as joint and several liability.

This means that if one of you leaves and stops contributing to the mortgage payments, the lender can ask the other person to pay the full amount.

If a mortgage is in one person's name, only that person is liable for the mortgage payments.

If you're not married or in a civil partnership and your name isn't on the mortgage, the lender may try and evict you. You could offer to make the mortgage payments when your partner leaves and the lender may agree to accept them. However, they don't have to accept. If you are in this situation you should get advice.

You can get advice from your local CAB. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by e-mail, click on nearest CAB.

Paying the rent when a relationship breaks down

Joint tenancy

A joint tenancy means that all of the tenants named on the tenancy agreement are jointly and solely liable for the rent. This is known as joint and several liability.

If the other joint tenant leaves and stops making payments towards the rent, the landlord can ask the other person to pay the full amount. That's why it's important to keep paying the full amount, otherwise you may get evicted.

In some cases, a joint tenant can end the joint tenancy by giving notice to the landlord. If you want to stay in the property you'll need to make sure this doesn't happen. Your landlord may be able to give you a new tenancy in your name only. If you are in this situation you should get advice.

You can get advice from your local CAB. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by e-mail, click on nearest CAB.

Sole tenancy which is not in your name

If a tenancy is in the name of your partner, they will be liable to pay the rent for as long as the tenancy continues. If the rent isn't paid and arrears build up, the landlord may take action to evict you.

If you're not married or in a civil partnership and your name isn't on the tenancy agreement, the landlord may try and evict you. You could offer to pay the rent when your partner leaves and the landlord may agree to accept it. However, they don't have to accept. If you are in this situation you should get advice.

You can get advice from your local CAB. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by e-mail, click on nearest CAB.

Benefits and housing costs

If you stay in your home after your partner has left, depending on your income, you may be able to get Housing Benefit to help pay the rent. If there is a mortgage, you may be able to get help with the mortgage interest.

For more information about Housing Benefit, see Help with your rent – Housing Benefit.

For more information about help with mortgage interest see, Help with mortgage costs if you're out of work.

Back to contents

Family mediation and arbitration

What is family mediation

Family mediation is a way of helping couples who are separating to sort out disagreements and reach decisions about things like money, property and looking after the children. To use mediation, you both have to be willing to go along voluntarily. You can refer yourself or be referred by a solicitor or adviser. If you are involved in court proceedings, the court may refer you to mediation, or if there are children involved, to a Children and Family Reporter.

An independent trained mediator meets you both (this can be separately or together) to understand the issues between you and help you reach an agreement. At the end of the mediation process, the mediator will write up the proposed agreement and check that both parties understand what this would mean for them. You may wish to get legal advice from a solicitor. For example, if you want the mediated agreement to be turned into a legally binding agreement.

What are benefits of family mediation

The benefits of mediation are:

  • it gives couples a greater say in what happens
  • it's less stressful and involves less conflict than going to court
  • it improves communication between couples
  • it is quicker and cheaper than court action
  • agreements can be changed when circumstances change
  • it considers the needs of children above the feelings of the parties
  • it is less upsetting for children involved and helps them continue important family relationships.

When to use family mediation

A couple can use family mediation services as soon as they have decided their relationship is ending and they feel able to discuss any disputes. Mediation can be helpful before legal proceedings begin, to encourage co-operation between the couple and to prevent disputes from getting worse and agreement becoming harder to reach in the future. Family mediation can also be used after a separation if new issues arise or there are outstanding issues to be resolved.

In England and Wales, if you want to apply to the court for an order to settle a disagreement about the children, money or property, in most cases you will be expected to contact a mediator and arrange a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting to see if you can resolve the dispute without going to court. The meeting can take place jointly or separately. There will be some situations where you will not need to attend a meeting, for example, where the police are investigating domestic violence.

Paying for mediation

You may be able to apply for legal aid to get financial help with the costs of family mediation. If you cannot get legal aid, you will have to pay privately for it. You should ask the mediator for a break-down of their charges as these may vary. You should ask about the options and shop around.

For more information on financial help with the legal costs of family mediation, see Help with legal costs.

You can find a useful guide about how family mediation can help you on the AdviceNow website at www.advicenow.org.uk.

Finding a mediator

In England and Wales, you can find a family mediator, including mediators who do legal aid work, on the Family Mediation Service Finder at www.familymediationhelpline.co.uk, or the Family Mediation Council's website at www.familymediationcouncil.org.uk.

Northern Ireland

Family Mediation Northern Ireland
7 University Street
Belfast
BT7 1FY

Tel: 028 9024 3265
E-mail: Enquiry@familymediationni.org.uk
Website: www.familymediationni.org.

Court-based dispute resolution

If you ask a court to make decisions about arrangements for your children at the end of your relationship, they will usually ask a Children and Family Reporter to get involved.

Children and Family Reporters work for the Children and Family Court Advisory Service (Cafcass). They are independent of the courts and other agencies such as social services, education and health authorities. They are qualified in social work and experienced in working with children and families.

The Children and Family Reporter will try and help you and your partner work out the best possible arrangements for your children.

Sometimes the court will ask you and your partner, and any other parents involved, to meet with the Children and Family Reporter to see if you can sort things out without having to go on with the court case. If you can come to an agreement at this stage, the judge can make an order to confirm what was agreed.

If you can't come to an agreement, the judge can order that a report is produced before the case goes any further.

Court-based dispute resolution schemes are free.

For more information about court-based dispute resolution and Children and Family Reporters, in England visit the Cafcass website at: www.cafcass.gov.uk, and in Wales, see wales.gov.uk.

Family arbitration

Family arbitration is a form of dispute resolution which enables couples to reach an agreement about family disputes without going to court. In contrast to family mediation, it is a more formal process and is similar to court proceedings. In addition, an arbitrator's decision, known as an award, is final and binding on the parties.

At present, family arbitration in England and Wales is available only through the Institute of Family Law Arbitrators (IFLA) Scheme. The Scheme covers financial and property disputes on relationship breakdown. It does not cover disputes about children, except for financial disputes.

IFLA strongly recommends you get legal advice before entering into an arbitration agreement.

You cannot get legal aid for arbitration.

For more information about how to apply for arbitration and about the Scheme's rules, contact IFLA at:

Institute of Family Law Arbitrators (IFLA)
PO Box 302
Orpington
Kent
BR6 8QX
Tel: 01689 820272
Email: info@ifla.org.uk or through the contact form on their website
Website: http://ifla.org.uk/

Back to contents

Further help

The Money Advice Service, Divorce and Separation website

www.moneyadviceservice.org.uk

The Advicenow website

National Family Mediation website

Information about separation, divorce and family mediation is available from the National Family Mediation website at: www.nfm.org.uk.

Family Mediation Northern Ireland

Tel: 028 9024 3265
E-mail: Enquiry@familymediationni.org.uk
Website: www.familymediationni.org.uk

Children and Family Court Advisory Service (Cafcass)

www.cafcass.gov.uk (in England)
wales.gov.uk (in Wales)

Adviceguide

Back to contents

Citizens Advice

Rate this page Give feedback