Separating from a married partner needs to be done through a legal process

Counselling and mediation services are available

Couples who are not married or civil partnered can separate without having to go through any formal process, whereas a married or civil partnered couple need to end their relationship formally through the divorce or dissolution process. However, for couples who are not married or not civil partnered splitting up can be more difficult because there is no recognised structure for sorting things out.

Whether you are married, civil partnered, or not, if you have children the court has the power to intervene in relation to the care of the children.

Counselling and mediation services

Counselling and mediation services are available for all couples, parents and families.

There is a conciliation service provided by some family courts if you have an issue over the children and have applied to court to sort it out.

Deciding on the most appropriate service will depend on the main unresolved issue: mediation can deal with finance, separation and children, whereas conciliation deals with issues relating to children.

See the following links for more information:

Advicenow’s breaking up checklist

CAFCASS (Information for children and their families involved in family court proceedings)

Counselling directory

Divorce, relationship breakdown and family courts contacts

Your local authority should be able to provide information on the family services available in your area – Directgov local authority finder

Dividing assets

It is always best to try and find a way of reaching an agreement between you about how to sort out your assets. Getting lawyers involved could be very expensive and could mean spending more money on them than the value of the actual items in question.

If you are unable to sort things out without the help of someone else, it is worth considering a mediation service.

Not married or not civil partnered

The following general rules apply:

  • If you alone paid for something, it belongs to you.
  • If you bought something together, without distinguishing shares, you own it jointly.
  • If you bought something and your contributions were unequal, then your share in it will be equal to the contribution you made.

It is always better to have a written record of ownership.

What you do or say makes a difference

However, what you do or say to each other at different times can change the above “rules”. For example, if you buy something but say to your partner “this is yours” or “this belongs to both of us” a court can later regard you as having created “a trust” and can hold you to that promise. Or you may be regarded as having created a trust by implication – this means that what you had said or done led to the conclusion that something you bought is shared or given to your partner.

Child maintenance

As a parent, your financial responsibility for your child does not end when your relationship with the other parent ends.

Child maintenance is regular financial support towards a child’s everyday living costs. It is paid by the parent without the main day-to-day care of the child to the parent with the main care. Since April 10 2010, all parents with the main day-to-day care have been allowed to keep all of their child maintenance without it affecting out-of-work benefits.

You have two options for arranging maintenance: a private arrangement; or a statutory (legal) arrangement. The Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission was formed in 2008 to provide help in setting up both kinds of arrangements. This help is delivered through the Child Maintenance Options service and the Child Support Agency.

Child maintenance can be arranged privately between yourselves without any official or legal intervention, and this can be done in whichever way is best suited to your circumstances. Free help and tools are available to set up this kind of “family-based child maintenance arrangement” from the Child Maintenance Options service.

If you are not able to reach an agreement between yourselves, it is still possible to arrange maintenance through the Child Support Agency (CSA). There are plans to create a new statutory service but, until then, the CSA is still available.

Further information

Child Maintenance Options offers impartial information and advice to help parents make informed choices about child maintenance. Helpline 0800 988 0988 or text CALL to 66644 for a free call back.

The Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission is the statutory body responsible for the child maintenance system.