How to sort out your finances on separation if you were living together

If you’ve been living together as a couple and then separate, you have fewer rights than couples who divorce or dissolve their civil partnership. It will be easier if you can agree about what you’re dividing – for example, your property and possessions.

Assessing your situation

Many couples who live together separate without using a solicitor. Unlike divorce or dissolving a civil partnership, there’s no formal legal process to go through.

But you might still want to get legal advice or mediation in some situations. Mediation involves using an impartial third party to help you reach agreement. For example, if you and your ex-partner can’t agree about:

  • any debts you have
  • the home you’ve lived in
  • how to split what you own, or
  • arrangements for your children.

There are several ways to handle the separation:

  • You can arrange your separation entirely on your own.
  • If you believe you have a claim against your ex-partner or they’re going to make a claim against you, you can talk to a solicitor to find out what you can do.
  • You can use a mediator to help you both reach an agreement.

If you use a solicitor for lots of face-to-face meetings and telephone calls – and especially if your case goes to court – the legal costs could get very expensive.

If you can, try to avoid arguing with your ex-partner through a solicitor.

Agreeing on finances

Sorting out your shared finances might not be simple and could take a while. Following these steps should make it easier:

  1. Make a list of what you own and any debts you have. Include everything from your home to your savings, household items and car. Usually, whoever owns an item gets to keep it. But the ex-partner might be able to make a claim.
  2. If you don’t know what your possessions are worth, you might need to use experts. For example, find out how much your property is worth by talking to local estate agents or looking at property online.
  3. Next, work out how you’d like to divide your possessions, and who’ll pay bills and loans. If you can’t agree, take a look at our Sort out joint bank accounts, insurance, bills and other finances with your ex-partner guide.
    If you can’t agree on what to do about your home, what you can do will depend partly on where you live in the UK. Whether your ex-partner can make a claim will also depend on where you live in the UK. Find out more in our guide Dividing the family home and mortgage during separation if you were living together. If you rent, your rights will usually depend on whose name is on the tenancy agreement. Find out more in our guide Dividing the rented family home on separation if you were living together.
  4. Try to agree how you’ll support your children, if you have them. As parents, you’re both expected to pay towards the costs of your children. Find out more in our guide How do I arrange child maintenance?

It’s a good idea if you can draw up an agreement that explains how you’ve decided to divide everything.

You’re both more likely to stick to an agreement if it’s written down, and it should reduce the chances of confusion later on.

Some couples find it impossible to agree how to split their finances, or they can agree some things but not others.

If that’s the case, you might find it helpful to use an impartial third party to help you come to an agreement – for example, a mediator.

Another option is to get legal advice from a solicitor.

You might need professional help if:

  • you took out a loan for your ex-partner which they can’t or won’t pay
  • you don’t own the home but want to make a financial claim against your ex-partner
  • you and your ex-partner have a joint business that you can’t agree on how to divide
  • you and your ex-partner own your home between you but can’t agree how to split it
  • you and your ex-partner have a joint mortgage and you can’t agree who should pay what
  • you and your ex-partner drew up a ‘living together agreement’ which set out how you would split your finances, but they’re refusing to keep to it.

Making a claim in court

Is your ex-partner refusing to negotiate or ignoring your legal rights? Then you might have to go to court to make a claim against them.

In England and Wales

You might be able to claim a ‘beneficial interest’ in your home or another property if it’s owned by your ex-partner and you had an agreement or an expectation that you would share its value if you split up.

In Scotland

You might be able to make a claim against your ex-partner if you’ve been ‘economically disadvantaged’ – or they’ve been ‘economically advantaged’ – by the relationship. This could be the case if you stopped working to look after children allowing your ex-partner's career to carry on.

You can’t claim for ongoing payments, but you might be able to make a claim for a lump sum.

If you make a claim, it has to be within 12 months of breaking up with your ex-partner.

In Northern Ireland

If you moved into their property, you might be able to make a claim against your ex-partner for a return of money you paid towards the mortgage.

Court action costs

The rules about when you can make a claim can be complicated. So it’s best to talk to a solicitor who specialises in disputes between cohabiting couples who are splitting up.

Be aware, taking your ex-partner to court can be financially as well as emotionally costly.

You can find a solicitor:

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impartial help for all your money and pension choices.
Whatever your circumstances or plans, move forward with MoneyHelper.

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Looking for us? Now, we’re MoneyHelper

MoneyHelper is the new, easy way to get clear, free,
impartial help for all your money and pension choices.
Whatever your circumstances or plans, move forward with MoneyHelper.

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