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.

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 occupation contract, 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 renting agreement (referred to as an ‘occupation contract’) 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 contract-holder 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 or Universal Credit housing costs to help pay the rent. Your entitlement is based on your circumstances, including your income and who is living in the house.

If you are a joint contract-holder with any type of standard or secure occupation contract, your contract cannot be ended by another joint contract-holder giving notice.

However, if you have a different kind of renting agreement you should take steps to protect your position and prevent the tenancy or licence being ended by your partner.

This can include applying for an injunction to prevent another joint tenant from serving a notice to end the tenancy or licence (this is called a ‘Notice to Quit’ if you have a common law tenancy). The application can be made in various ways, including making an application when you apply for a divorce or dissolution of a civil partnership, or when an application is made for the benefit of your children. If you need to do this, you will need to get advice from a solicitor specialising in family law.

Withdrawal of a joint contract-holder if you agree

If you are a joint contract-holder along with your partner, and have decided that one of you will leave, the person leaving can ‘withdraw’ from the contract. This is a fundamental term of all secure or periodic standard contracts, unless you agreed to remove this term at the start of the contract because you jointly felt it improved your position to do so.

If you are joint contract-holders with a fixed term standard contract, a joint contract-holder does not have the right to withdraw from the contract unless it contains a ‘contract-holder’s break clause‘. If there is no break clause, the landlord might agree to vary the current fixed term standard contract, or to a surrender of the current contract to replace it with a new contract in the sole name of the person remaining in the property. If you and the landlord are agreeing to a surrender of the contract, ensure that you have written evidence that the landlord agreed to grant a new contract immediately after the surrender.

Exclusion of a joint contract-holder

If one of the joint contract-holders stops living at the property, and does not appear to intend to return, the remaining joint contract-holder may be able to apply to the county court to have the name of the person who has left removed from the contract. Before an application to the court can be made, the remaining joint contract-holder must give a ‘warning notice’ to the person who has left and does not intend to return. This notice must be in writing and give 4 weeks before an application to court is made. The landlord must also be given a copy of the notice. During the 4 week period the person remaining at the home must make reasonable enquiries about whether the other joint contract-holder intends to return.

The court may not make an order to remove the person who has left the home, if that person has left due to the other joint contract-holder’s antisocial behaviour.

If you are a joint contract-holder remaining at the home and making an application to exclude another joint contract-holder, you may wish to seek advice from a family law solicitor.

If you have left your home following a relationship breakdown and are homeless or at risk of homelessness, contact your local council to make a homelessness application.

If you are not named on the occupation contract

If you’re not a joint or sole contract-holder or other type of joint occupier (i.e. not named on the agreement), 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). If you are going to apply for SMI payments, speak to your lender to see whether they can do anything to make things easier for you whilst you wait. If you think you or your partner are not going to be able to pay the mortgage then it is important you explain your situation to your lender as soon as possible.

If you think you are getting into financial difficulties contact Shelter Cymru’s specialist debt advice service.

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

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.

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 through specialist organisations such as The Law Society, Resolution or Relate.

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.

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.

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
08000 495 495

Email an adviser

If you have a non-urgent problem and would like to speak to an adviser
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 08000 495 495.

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This page was last updated on: May 31, 2023

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.