Finances after separation
If you're unmarried and separating from your partner, how should you sort out your money, possessions and living arrangements?
If you've been living with your partner and your relationship ends, you don't have to take any legal action to separate. However, you may need to sort out issues surrounding children, housing, property and money. You can do this either by an informal agreement or by making a written separation agreement.
Who should I inform at the end of my relationship?
You may need to get in touch with the following:
- Landlord or housing office;
- Housing benefit office;
- Council tax office (England and Wales);
- Mortgage lender;
- Water, gas, electricity and telephone companies;
- Tax office, particularly if you're getting tax credits;
- Your bank, especially if you have a joint account;
- Hire purchase or credit companies;
- Insurance companies, particularly if you have joint policies;
- Post office, if you want mail redirected;
- Your doctor, dentist and child health clinic.
What is a separation agreement?
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.
Do I have to financially support my ex?
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.
What rights do I have to my home?
This depends on your status as a tenant on homeowner:
- If you're the partner of a tenant you'll usually have no right to stay in the property if they ask you to leave. But if you need to stay in the home - perhaps because you have children or nowhere else to go - then you should consult an experienced adviser, such as a family law solicitor. You may get short-term rights to stay in the home if you apply to court;
- If you're a joint tenant you will have equal rights and responsibilities. If you and your ex can agree on who should stay in the home, you should ask the landlord to take the person leaving off the tenancy agreement and have a new tenancy agreement drawn up in your sole name . If you can't agree, you should consult a legal adviser to help you decide whether a court should resolve the issue;
- If you're the sole owner, you have a right to stay in the home although your partner may be able to claim a 'beneficial interest' in it (see below) ;
- If you're joint owners, you will both have equal rights to stay in the home. If one of you wants to leave, you should seek legal advice at the first opportunity. There are different ways two people can legally own property and your solicitor will be able to advise you of the implications of these, as well as deal with the sale or purchase. Sometimes, one partner will buy the other out, but in all cases you should approach the mortgage lender to ensure that the leaving partner has been released from his or her obligations under the mortgage.
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.
How do we sort out our money and possessions?
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 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.
Thanks to Citizens Advice Bureau for help with this article.
Written by Matt Whyman
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