Relationship breakdown : things to consider

This page will help you think about some of the decisions you’ll have to make when you split up with a partner. These might include where you’re going to live, whether to divorce or dissolve a civil partnership, and financial issues.

When you first split up from a partner, your options are likely to be:

  • staying in the home while your partner moves out
  • your partner stays in the house, and you’ll move out
  • you’ll both leave and get new places
  • you’ll carry on living together in the same house, but as separate households (ie not as a couple).

It may be that in the short-term you need to leave your home, but would like to return to it later. Or you may want to stay in the home for the time being, but move out when you’ve decided where to go. The option you choose will depend on whether you have children, your financial situation, whether there’s anywhere else you could live, and the legal rights you have to your home. Longer-term plans will depend on whether you rent or own your home.

How to decide who should stay in the family home

Who stays in the family home will depend on whether it’s affordable. It also depends on rights and personal circumstances, for example, if you are married or in a civil partnership, whether you have children, and what other housing options might be available.

If it’s possible, discussing these issues with your partner and coming to a mutual agreement can avoid a long and costly legal process. If you need help to discuss your options, mediation and/or counselling can provide a neutral third party to help you see each other’s point of view.

There are advantages and disadvantages to staying on in the home if your partner moves out. On the plus side, you and your children, if you have any, maintain stability and continuity, for example of school, friends and family. A disadvantage might be that the home becomes unaffordable for you to run on your own.

Through discussion and negotiation with your partner, or by going to court, it may be possible for you to share the home, either on a short- or long-term basis. This could mean that one person stays in the home and the other has access to it, or that you both live in different parts of the home.

Even though you may need to make a decision quickly, it’s important to check your legal position carefully. If you want to keep on living in your home, either now or later, you will need to protect any rights you may have to it. The person whose name is on the tenancy agreement, or who owns the home, doesn’t necessarily have to be the person who stays there. In the longer-term, you may be able to get ownership of the home or the tenancy transferred into your name, depending on your circumstances.

What about financial issues?

Whether you stay in or move out of your home, you will have to think about how you’re going to pay for your rent or mortgage. Depending on your circumstances, you may be able to claim maintenance payments from your ex-partner.

If you’re a joint or sole tenant or owner in your current home, you will be liable for making rent/mortgage payments. It’s important you make sure these payments are still being made, otherwise you could get evicted or repossessed, which could make it difficult for you to get a new place.

If you rent your home

Whether you are working or not, you might be entitled to Housing Benefit to help pay the rent. Your entitlement is based on your circumstances, including your income, who’s living in the house, and whether the amount of rent you pay is about the same as similar properties in the area. You can apply for Housing Benefit through your local council.

If you’re a joint tenant and you want to stay in the home, you should make sure the other joint tenant doesn’t end the tenancy. See stopping your partner from giving notice for more information.

If you’re not a joint or sole tenant, you may want to establish the right to make rent payments towards the home. This would help protect your interest in the home.

If you own your home

If you are a joint or sole owner and are claiming:

  • Income Support
  • income-based Jobseekers Allowance
  • Pension Credit, or
  • Universal Credit

you may be entitled to Support for Mortgage Interest (SMI) payments.

These payments can help you pay the interest element of your mortgage (not any capital) and are paid as a loan which must be repaid when your property is sold or transferred.

Depending on what benefit you claim, you may have to wait a significant amount of time before the payments can be made (up to 9 months if you receive Universal Credit).

For more advice on SMI, click here.

If you’re not a joint or sole owner, you may want to establish the right to make mortgage payments towards the home. This would help protect your interest in the home.

Negotiating with your lender

If you are going to apply for SMI, speak to your lender to see whether they can do anything to make payments easier for you. If you think you or your partner are not going to be able to pay the mortgage then it is important you contact the lender and explain your situation.

If you think you are getting into financial difficulties, speak to an adviser as soon as you can.  Contact Shelter Cymru’s specialist debt advice service.

For more information see our advice pages on dealing with mortgage arrears.

Will I need a solicitor?

If you are planning to divorce, separate from or split up with your partner, or dissolve your registered civil partnership, it is likely that at some point you’ll need a solicitor to help you sort out your home and money issues. You may be able to sort things out yourselves if you don’t have children, or if you haven’t been married or together for very long, but if you share lots of assets and can’t agree how to divide them, you may need legal help.

Mediation can help in these circumstances. It provides a neutral third party to help you and your partner make decisions, and is likely to be cheaper than a solicitor. However, it is usually a good idea to get some legal advice from a solicitor even if you decide to go for mediation.

You will need a family law solicitor, which you can find using the Yellow Pages, or through specialist organisations such as The Law Society, Resolution or Relate.

Fees
Solicitors’ charges are based on how much time they spend on your case. Get an estimate before you start, but be aware that fees may go up as your case progresses. If you instigated the divorce, you may also be liable for court fees.

For some matters, you may be eligible for public funding (legal aid) to help with the costs – check the Civil Legal Advice website to see if you’re eligible.

Divorcing, dissolving your registered civil partnership or splitting up

If you are married or in a registered civil partnership, you might want to legally end your relationship if it has permanently broken down. Getting divorced or dissolving your registered civil partnership is not a short-term answer to housing problems, as it can take six to eight months from the time that you apply. However, at the same time you apply, you can also ask the court to make orders to do with money and the home.

The kind of orders the court can make include:

  • regular maintenance payments
  • lump sum payments
  • property adjustment orders (if you and/or your partner are home owners)
  • tenancy transfer (if you and/or your partner are tenants)
  • pension adjustments.

These pages do not contain specific information about the divorce process or these orders, seek specialist advice.

If you choose not to legally end your relationship, living apart is enough to class you as separated for tax and benefit purposes. Even if you live together, you can be classed as separated. It is a good idea in these circumstances to get a ‘deed of separation’ to record any practical and financial agreements.

If you’re not married or in a registered civil partnership, the courts have fewer powers to make orders about what happens to the home. You will have to rely on what has been agreed in the past and contributions you have both made. There is more information about the rights of cohabiting partners throughout this section.

Finding a new place to live

If you decide to move out, you will need to find a new place to live. If possible, try to find somewhere before you move out. Finding a place to live can help you work out your housing options.

If you end up with nowhere to stay, you can make a homeless application to the council. Depending on your circumstances, the council will probably have to help you at an early stage so as to stop you becoming homeless.

Phone an adviser

If you have a housing problem, call our expert housing advice helpline
0345 075 5005

Email an adviser

If you have a non-urgent problem and would like to speak to an advisor
email us

We are sorry that we cannot provide this information in Welsh, however if you would like to speak to an adviser in Welsh please contact 0345 075 5005.

This page was last updated on: April 18, 2018

Shelter Cymru acknowledges the support of Shelter in allowing us to adapt their content. The information contained on this site is updated and maintained by Shelter Cymru and only gives general guidance on the law in Wales. It should not be regarded or relied upon as a complete or authoritative statement of the law.