When your relationship breaks down it can be difficult to focus on the legal and practical steps that need to be taken, particularly if it’s not something you want. As difficult as it is, taking a step back and being pragmatic about the situation can greatly assist in reaching a better resolution for the whole family.
Removing emotion might seem impossible, but getting independent advice can really help with this, whether that be legal, financial, or simply having someone else ‘sense check’ the arrangements for the children.
What you do first will greatly depend on your own unique situation and what is important to you. For example, if you are concerned about your safety or the safety of your children, getting help with that will be your priority. Alternatively, you may feel you want to try and save the relationship and try counselling in the first instance.
Whatever you decide, and whether you are married or not, here are some general things you should start to do/consider when your relationship breaks down:
- Arrangements for the children – think about how their time will be divided between you and what’s in their best interests. If the children are old enough, talk to them
- If you are the one leaving the home, take your important personal documents (such as passport, birth certificate, qualification certificates and so on) and items with you – you may not know when you will get the chance to retrieve them, especially if you are no longer on good speaking terms
- If you cannot agree how to divide jointly-owned items, draw up a list to help you negotiate and be prepared to “give and take”
- Redirect your mail if you move out and consider the accounts you need to change your details on
- Prepare a schedule of your monthly outgoings – consider how you will manage your finances, loans and credit card payments. Who will pay what on a short-term and long-term basis?
- Child or spousal maintenance – you can check child maintenance liability online using the government calculator here. A solicitor can advise you on spousal maintenance
- Get the house valued – this will be needed whether you are going to remain in the house or sell it
- Check whether you jointly own the property – if you don’t, you may need to register a notice or restriction with the Land Registry to protect your interest. If you do, you may need to sever the joint tenancy
- Check your mortgage documentation – how much do you owe, are there any early redemption charges? This will be needed to determine the equity in the property
- Speak to a mortgage advisor – consider your mortgage borrowing capacity
- Gather your documentary evidence – did you have a pre-nuptial agreement, cohabitation agreement or declaration of trust document?
- If you are married, you will need to collate your financial disclosure – this is usually done by completing a Form E and gathering the relevant documents
- Tell the council about a change in circumstances – this could affect the amount of council tax you pay or benefits you receive
- If you have a joint bank account, you should check whether this needs closing or leaving in place to pay the bills from during the interim. If left in place, consider the risk of the other party withdrawing sums without agreement and if any safeguards need putting in place
- Utility and insurance companies – consider if they need updating at this stage. A change in circumstances could affect the terms of your cover
- DWP – if you get benefits, tell them about your change in situation
- Get financial and tax advice at any early stage – consider the short term and long-term implications of separating
- Check death benefit nominations and update or make a new will.
The above list is not exhaustive, but it will set you on the right track. There is much to do, and the process may seem daunting. If you have any difficulties, getting advice from a solicitor early on could help resolve matters more quickly.
Your options of how to deal with matters will be discussed. It could include negotiations with solicitors or with the help of others or using alternative dispute resolution such as mediation.
Court proceedings could be necessary; although this would usually be a last resort unless there was a need for urgency, protection – for you, the children, or assets – or timetabling, if the other party is not engaging in the process or being difficult. Whatever your situation, a solution can be tailored for you.