If you’ve been living with your partner and your relationship ends, you don’t have to take legal action to separate. However, you may need to sort out issues surrounding children, housing, property and money. You can do this informally or use a formal agreement, called a separation agreement.
If you decide to stop living together, it’s important to let the benefits office in particular know as this may affect the amount you get. Here’s a list of other places you may need to contact:
Landlord or housing office
Dividing up possessions can be particularly tricky if certain items were bought jointly but an informal agreement over who owns what is the ideal solution. You might be able to agree on certain conditions for dividing possessions, such as claiming anything you bought before you cohabited. Generally, the person who bought an item will have a right to own it.
If you have separate bank accounts, neither can have access to the money held in each other’s accounts. But if you have a joint account, you both have access to the money held there. However, if one partner didn’t use the account it may be hard for them to claim any right to this money. While you’re trying to come to an agreement, it might be a good idea to freeze the account to prevent your partner withdrawing some or all of the money in the meantime.
You will be liable for any debts that are in your name only, but not for any which are just in your partner’s name. However, you may be responsible for any debts in joint names. Also, if your partner has a debt for which you have acted as guarantor, you will be legally responsible for paying it.
Your legal rights depend on your status as a tenant or homeowner:
If your ex is the sole owner of the home, you may be able to claim long-term rights to the property if you can show you have a beneficial interest in it. This is a way of getting a court to formally recognise any contributions you made to the home, such as paying utility bills or paying for home improvements. If you can prove this, you might be able to get the right to live in the home, prevent your ex from living there or get a share of the proceeds if the home is sold.
A separation agreement is a written agreement between a couple who wish to stop living together. It contains details about how money, property and childcare arrangements should be dealt with. Separation agreements aren’t compulsory, but they can be a good idea to avoid any future disputes. It’s advisable to consult a solicitor to help you draw one up. You can search for legal aid solicitors on the Gov.UK website.
If unmarried, neither partner has a legal duty to support the other financially, either during or after the relationship. However, a separation agreement might include a point that states, for example, that you will continue to provide financial support to your ex unless they start living with a new partner.