Arranging financial support after you separate

This advice applies to England. See advice for See advice for Northern Ireland, See advice for Scotland, See advice for Wales

Separating from a partner can have a big impact on your finances, especially if you relied on their income during your relationship.

If your marriage or civil partnership ends, you can ask for financial support - known as ‘spousal maintenance’ - from your ex-partner as soon as you separate. This is in addition to any child maintenance they might have to pay.

If you weren't married or in a civil partnership, you’ll have to share the costs of looking after any children you have together - but you don’t have to support each other financially when you separate.

You can ask your ex-partner for financial support if you were married in a country where Islamic marriages are recognised, for example Pakistan. You normally won’t qualify for financial support if you were married in the UK under Islamic law - unless you also have a civil marriage in the UK.

You don’t have to go to court to arrange financial support. If possible, it's cheaper and easier to come to an agreement between yourselves - this is known as a ‘voluntary arrangement’.

If you’re struggling to work out maintenance payments by yourselves, you might be able to reach an agreement through mediation. Mediation starts with a ‘mediation information and assessment meeting’ (MIAM). At the MIAM you’ll find out what mediation is and how it can help you. You can find out more about mediation before you go to the MIAM.

If you decide to go to court to ask for financial support, you’ll normally need to prove that you’ve been to a MIAM. There are exceptions when you don’t have to go to a MIAM first - for example, if you’ve suffered domestic abuse.


If you need to speak with someone about your partner being aggressive

If your partner makes you feel anxious or threatened, you should get help.

If you’re a woman affected by domestic abuse, you can call Refuge or Women's Aid on 0808 2000 247 at any time. 

If you're a man affected by domestic abuse you can call Men's Advice Line on 0808 801 0327 between 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.

If you’re unsure about what to do next, talk to an adviser.

Working out your financial support

There’s no easy formula to work out how much maintenance payments should be, or how long they should last. It’s up to you and your ex-partner to decide.

If you have a court order for financial support - also known as ‘ancillary relief’ - your maintenance will normally stop when you remarry or start a civil partnership.

It might also stop if you move in with a new partner, but your ex-partner would have to prove that your income had gone up before they could change the court order.

If you’re worried about the cost of a solicitor

Try to agree as much as you can with your ex-partner before you go to a solicitor. This will help you keep the cost of legal fees down.

Some solicitors might offer 30 minutes of free legal advice. Use this time to find out as much as you can. You’re unlikely to get detailed advice, but you should get an idea of how complicated your case is and roughly how much it’ll cost you.

You could ask your solicitor if they’ll do the work for a fixed fee so you know from the beginning how much your legal fees will be. They don’t have to agree to this.

If you agree about financial support

To work out financial support, you and your ex-partner first need to gather bank statements, bills and payslips. This is to get an idea how much money you’ve both got coming in and going out.

You’ll need to include things like mortgage or rent payments and utility bills, so you might want to think about which one of you is going to be living in the family home and work out who’ll be paying for what.

If you have children, you’ll also need to include child maintenance payments in the budget.

You can use our budgeting tool to help work out your income and expenses.

When you’ve agreed your financial support, you should write it down. It’s a good idea to sign the document and each keep a copy.

Make sure the agreement includes:

  • how much the payment is each month

  • how long the payments will last - this could be until you move in with a new partner, or remarry

  • what each payment does and doesn’t include, for example it might cover the mortgage but not gas and electricity bills

  • a date to review your budgets - usually after 12 months

If you’re not ready to get divorced or end your civil partnership

You can ask a solicitor to write down your arrangements as a ‘separation agreement’.

A separation agreement isn’t legally binding, but you’ll normally be able to use it in court if:

  • it’s been properly drafted by a solicitor

  • you and your ex-partner’s financial situations haven’t changed since you made the agreement

If you’ve already started getting divorced or ending your civil partnership

You can ask your solicitor to turn your separation agreement into a 'consent order' as soon as you’ve started the process of getting divorced or ending your civil partnership.

If your consent order is approved by a judge, it becomes legally binding after your divorce is finalised or your civil partnership ends.

This means you can take your partner to court if they don’t keep paying your financial support.

You’ll have to pay a court fee of £58 for a consent order, as well as fees to your solicitor.

If you can't agree on financial support

You’ll need to apply to court for a financial order. This asks a judge to decide how much maintenance you should get.

You can apply for a financial remedy order without the help of a solicitor, but some of the forms are quite complicated. You’ll also need to find lots of evidence like bank statements and payslips.

It’s best to talk to a solicitor, just to make sure you’ve got everything you need for the court hearing.

You can search for a solicitor on the  Law Society website, or look on the Resolution website.

You can apply for a financial order at any time after you’ve you’ve filed an application to end your marriage or civil partnership - as long as you’ve been to a meditation information and assessment meeting (MIAM) first.

It’s best to apply before you receive your decree absolute or final order. The longer you wait to apply after separating, the less the judge might award you.

Find out how to apply for a financial order on GOV.UK.

If you’re struggling to manage on the payments you get

If you have a voluntary arrangement and you’re struggling with the maintenance you get from your ex-partner, you could try talking to them and explaining why you need more money.

If your partner can’t afford to pay any more, it's worth checking if you're eligible for any benefits or help with your council tax.

Contact your nearest Citizens Advice if you’ve got little or no money spare at the end of each month after separating - an adviser can help maximise your income.

If you already have a financial order from the court

You can go back to court to ask for more maintenance if you or your partner’s circumstances have changed. For example:

  • you’ve lost your job

  • your ex-partner has received some money, for example an inheritance

  • your ex-partner has moved in with a new partner and their household income has increased

This is known as ‘varying’ the court order.

Before you go to court

To get an increase in maintenance, you’ll need to be able to prove that there’s been a change in circumstances. A solicitor can help you decide if it's worth going to court.

Search for a solicitor on the Law Society website, or look on the  Resolution website.

There’s always a risk that the judge could amend the order in the opposite direction - lowering your maintenance payments. Your legal fees could also end up being more than any increase a judge awards you.

If you’re the one paying financial support

You don’t have to split your income 50-50, but you should aim to pay what you can towards your ex-partner’s bills and living costs until they can bring in more money on their own.

It’s important that any agreement is fair on you both. You shouldn’t pay so much financial support to your ex-partner that you end up getting into debt yourself.

If you can’t afford to pay

It’s important that you don’t just stop paying - you should try to reach an agreement with your ex-partner first.

Find out if your ex-partner will go to mediation with you. If they won't, you should talk to a solicitor.

If you already make court-ordered payments to your ex-partner and can’t afford the payments, you could go back to court and ask the judge to vary the court order. You’ll need to show why you can’t afford the payments any more, for example because you’ve lost your job.

If you want to vary the court order because you believe your ex-partner doesn’t need as much money any more, you’ll need to prove that their financial circumstances have changed.

This can be hard to do, so it’s best to speak to a solicitor to check that it’s worth going back to court.

Search for a solicitor on the  Law Society website, or look on the Resolution website.

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