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Separating from a partner: married or not

When a married or civil partnered couple ends their relationship, they need to go through a formal process of divorce or dissolution. Couples who are not married or civil partnered can separate without having to go through any formal process.

However, splitting up can be more difficult for couples who are not married and not civil partnered, because there is no recognised structure for sorting things out. This can be particularly difficult if you have children.

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

If you have an issue over your children and have applied to court to sort it out, some family courts will offer a mediation or conciliation service. Counselling and mediation services are available for all couples, parents and families.

Deciding on the most appropriate service will depend on what the unresolved issues are. Mediation can deal with finances, separation and children; whereas conciliation deals specifically with issues relating to children.

See the following links for more information:

Advicenow – breaking up survival guide

Cafcass  – information for children and their families involved in family court proceedings

Counselling directory – find a local counselling service

Resolution – find family lawyers, mediators and other relationship professionals

Find your local council on – your local council should be able to tell you about family services available in your area.

Dividing assets

It is always best to try and reach an agreement with your ex-partner about how to sort out your finances and assets. Getting lawyers involved can be very expensive – perhaps even more expensive than the value of the items in question.

If you can’t sort things out on your own, it is worth considering a mediation service.

If you are not married and not civil partnered, the following general rules apply:

  • If you alone paid for something, it belongs to you.
  • If you bought something together, 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.

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

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 on your own is now shared or was given to your partner.

Child maintenance

As a parent, your financial responsibility for your child continues after your relationship with the other parent has ended.

Child maintenance is regular financial support towards a child’s everyday living costs. It is paid to the parent with the main day-to-day care of the child by the other parent. Receiving child maintenance will not affect any other benefits you are entitled to, including those that are means tested.

You have two options for arranging maintenance: a private arrangement; or a statutory (legal) arrangement. The Child Maintenance Service can help with setting up both kinds of arrangements.

You can arrange child maintenance privately between yourselves without any official or legal intervention, in whatever way best suits your circumstances. The Child Maintenance Service offers free help and tools to set up this kind of ‘family-based child maintenance arrangement’

Further information

Child Maintenance Options offers impartial information and advice to help parents make informed choices about child maintenance. Call the free helpline on 0800 988 0988 or use the Live Chat service from 8am to 8pm Monday to Friday or 9am to 4pm Saturday.

The Child Maintenance Service is the statutory body responsible for the child maintenance system.

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