How to sort out your finances on separation if you were cohabiting

If you’ve been living together as a couple and then separate, you have fewer rights than couples divorcing or dissolving their civil partnership. The more you can agree in relation to your property, possessions and assets, the more straightforward your break-up will be.

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 may still want to take legal advice or mediation (using an impartial third party to help you reach agreement) in some situations.

For example, if you and your ex-partner are in dispute about the home you’ve lived in, about arrangements for your children, or you can’t agree how to split what you own and any debts you have.

There are several options available to you:

  1. You can arrange your separation entirely on your own.
  2. If you believe you have a claim against your ex-partner or your ex is going to make a claim against you, you can talk to a solicitor to find out what you can do about it.
  3. You can use a mediator to help you and your ex-partner to 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 overall legal costs could be very expensive. Try to avoid arguing with your ex-partner through a solicitor if you can.

Read more in Your options for legal or financial advice on separation.

Agreeing on finances

Sorting out the finances may take some time and may not be straightforward, but it should be easier if you follow these steps:

  1. Make a list of what you own and the debts you have. Include everything from your home to your savings, household items and your car. As a general rule, the person who owns the item is entitled to keep it. But the other partner may be able to make a claim.
  2. If you don’t know what your possessions are worth, you may need to use experts. For example, you could check how much properties like yours are selling for in the local paper, talk to a local estate agent or look online at property websites.
  3. Next, start to work out how you would like to divide your possessions, and who will pay bills and loans. If you can’t agree how these should be divided, start with our guide Sort out joint bank accounts, insurance, bills and other finances with your ex-partner.
    If you can’t agree how your home should be divided, what you can do, and whether your ex-partner can make a claim, will depend in part on where in the UK you live. Find out more about Dividing the family home and mortgage during separation. If you rent, your rights will usually depend on whose name is on the tenancy agreement. Read more in our guide Dividing the family home and mortgage on separation – renting.
  4. Try to agree how you will support your children. As parents, you are both expected to pay towards the costs of your children. There’s more information on how to do this in How to 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 the finances, or they can agree some things but not others. If that’s your experience, you may find it helpful to use an impartial third party, such as a mediator, to broker an agreement.

Another option is to take legal advice from a solicitor. Examples of where you may need professional help are if:

  • You and your ex-partner own your home between you but can’t agree how to split it
  • 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 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 he or she won’t now keep to it
  • You and your ex-partner have a joint business that you can’t agree on how to divide
  • You took out a loan for your ex-partner which he or she can’t or won’t pay

Making a claim in court

If your ex-partner won’t negotiate at all or is ignoring your legal rights, you may have to go to court to make a claim against him or her.

England and Wales

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

Scotland

You may be able to make a claim against your ex-partner if you have been what’s called ‘economically disadvantaged’ (which means you are financially worse off), or if your ex-partner has been ‘economically advantaged’ by the relationship. You cannot claim for ongoing payments, but you may be able to make a claim for a lump sum.

You have to bring any claim within 12 months of breaking up with your ex-partner, so make sure you don’t miss the deadline.

Northern Ireland

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

The costs of court action

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. Do be aware though that taking your ex-partner to court can be financially as well as emotionally costly.

You can find a solicitor:

Your next step

Find out Your options for legal or financial advice on separation