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This advice applies to
This information applies if you want to split up with someone you're living with. It applies whether you're gay, lesbian or heterosexual. It's not for people who are married or in a civil partnership.
If you are living with your partner and your relationship ends, you do not have to take any legal action to separate. However, there may be issues about children, housing, property and money to sort out. This can be done either by informal agreement or by making a written separation agreement.
If you have children, a court can make orders about who the children should live with and have contact with.
A court can also make an order about rights to stay in your home and selling any jointly-owned property.
If you are thinking of going to court to sort out disagreements about the children, money or housing, or if domestic abuse is involved, you should consult an experienced adviser, for example, a family law solicitor. Lists of solicitors can be obtained from your local Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your local CAB, including those that can give e-mail advice, click on nearest CAB.
If you and your partner are separating, you may need to inform:
A separation agreement is a written agreement between a couple who intend to stop living together. It sets out how you wish to sort out issues about money, property and arrangements for the children. Examples of things you might want to include in an agreement are:
The advantage of a written agreement is that it's easier to make sure that you both understand what has been agreed. It also means that either of you can go to court to change the order at a future date. It is advisable to consult a solicitor when drawing up a separation agreement, but you should work out in advance the general areas you want to cover. This will reduce the legal costs. You may be able to get help with your legal costs.
For more information about help with legal costs, see Help with legal costs
At the end of a relationship, both parents are responsible for supporting their children financially regardless of where the children will live. Both parents are equally responsible even if they are not named on the child’s birth certificate. It doesn't matter whether they have got parental responsibility or not. Either parent can be contacted by the Child Maintenance Service for financial support.
If you are the child's father, you will not automatically have a right to a say in their future, even though you may be financially supporting them. This will depend on whether you have parental responsibility for your child.
Having parental responsibility means you share with your partner in the responsibility for your child's health, education and welfare.
If the father and mother were not married at the time of the birth of the child, the father will have parental responsibility if:
If you're the lesbian or gay partner of a child's parent, there are various ways in which you might have got parental responsibility for your partner's children.
For more information about parental responsibility, see Responsibility for children in Civil partnerships and living together – legal differences.
It is best if you and your partner can come to a friendly arrangement about the care of your children. This arrangement should include who your children will normally live with and how they will stay in touch with the other parent.
If you and your partner find it difficult to agree between yourselves, you can ask for help from a local family mediation service. Mediators are people who are trained to listen to both sides, and to help you and your partner agree on what will be best for yourselves and the children. To use this service, you both have to be willing to go along voluntarily. Any decisions you make there will not be legally binding.
If you and your partner can't reach agreement by yourselves, you can ask the courts to make the decision for you. However, the court will expect you to arrange a meeting with a family mediator first, before they will consider your application.
In certain pilot areas, there is a free helpline for separating parents in dispute about their children. Further information can be found on the CAFCASS website at www.cafcass.gov.uk.
A court will only make a child arrangements order about children if it feels it is in the best interests of the child to do so.
A child arrangements order sets out the arrangements about who a child should live with, spend time with and have other types of contact with and when these arrangements should take place. The child arrangements order is one order which replaces the previous separate residence and contact orders.
The child arrangements order may contain activity conditions, for example, attendance at a parenting programme. It may also say what sort of contact you can have, for example, visiting, telephone or writing letters. Orders can also be made to allow contact between a child and other relatives or friends.
If you are the father and you don't already have parental responsibility, you can ask the court to grant you a parental responsibility order. Parents with parental responsibility are entitled to have a say in important decisions about a child's life such as the child's home, health, education, religion, name, money and property.
It can be a good idea to apply to the court for both a child arrangements order and a parental responsibility order at the same time. You may be able to get help with legal costs.
If you are thinking of going to court about arrangements for children, you should consult an experienced adviser, for example, a family law solicitor or at a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by e-mail, click on nearest CAB.
Neither you or your partner has a duty to maintain the other at the end of a relationship if you were not married or in a civil partnership.
Financial arrangements can be arranged:
If you both agree to financial support, this is called a voluntary agreement or family-based arrangement. It can be written down or it could be a verbal agreement.
You can agree, for example, that one of you will make weekly payments to the other for the support of children, or will meet rent or mortgage payments, household bills, or pay for the children's clothing and holidays.
If you need advice on the options available for arranging child maintenance and for advice on how to set up a voluntary child maintenance agreement, you can contact the Child Maintenance Options Service at: www.cmoptions.org.
For more information about family-based arrangements, see How to make a family-based child maintenance arrangement.
Before you agree on a package of financial support, it may be useful to get legal advice about whether it is an appropriate arrangement. It may also be useful to have an agreement drawn up by a solicitor in case of future dispute. You might get help with the costs of making a voluntary agreement.
If your relationship has ended and the children are living with you, you can use the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) to get financial support for your children. However, you don't have to use the CMS if you don't want to.
The CMS is the government child maintenance service that arranges maintenance for children under the 2012 Scheme.
For more information about getting financial support for your children through the CMS, see Child maintenance – where to start.
In some circumstances, the court can make an order for financial support for the children. In most cases, the court will expect you to arrange a meeting with a family mediator first, before they will consider an application for a court order. The court cannot make an order for financial support for you or your partner.
A court can make an order for regular payments to be made for the children or a one-off lump sum.
If you apply to court for financial support for the children, you might be able to get help with the legal costs. However you may have to pay towards these costs from money or property you get as a result of the court action. This is called the statutory charge. Make sure your solicitor explains the statutory charge properly to you before you start court action.
At the end of your relationship, a court may be able to give you or your partner short-term rights to the home. These can include:
If your partner has been violent to you, you might need help to make sure you are safe in your home, or have a safe place to stay. For more information about help you can get if your partner has been violent to you, see Domestic violence.
A court can also make long-term arrangements about housing in certain cases where there are children.
In most cases, if you need to apply for a court order about housing, the court will expect you to arrange a meeting with a family mediator first, before they will consider your application.
If you are thinking of going to court about your housing rights after the breakdown of your relationship, you should consult an experienced adviser, for example, a family law solicitor or at a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by e-mail, click on nearest CAB.
For more information on what happens to your home if your relationship breaks down, see Relationship breakdown and housing.
Family mediation is a way of helping couples who are separating to sort out disagreements and reach decisions about things like money, property and looking after the children. To use mediation, you both have to be willing to go along voluntarily. You can refer yourself or be referred by a solicitor or adviser. If you are involved in court proceedings, the court may refer you to mediation, or if there are children involved, to a CAFCASS officer.
An independent trained mediator meets you both (this can be separately or together) to understand the issues between you and help you reach an agreement. At the end of the mediation process, the mediator will write up the proposed agreement and check that both parties understand what this would mean for them. You may wish to get legal advice from a solicitor. For example, if you want the mediated agreement to be turned into a legally binding agreement.
To find out more about mediation, see Family mediation video.
The benefits of mediation are:
A couple can use family mediation services as soon as they have decided their relationship is ending and they feel able to discuss any disputes. Mediation can be helpful before legal proceedings begin, to encourage co-operation between the couple and to prevent disputes from getting worse and agreement becoming harder to reach in the future. Family mediation can also be used after a separation if new issues arise or there are outstanding issues to be resolved.
If you want to apply to the court for an order to settle a disagreement about the children, money or property, in most cases you will be expected to contact a mediator and arrange a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting to see if you can resolve the dispute without going to court. The meeting can take place jointly or separately. There will be some situations where you will not need to attend a meeting, for example, where the police are investigating domestic violence.
You may be able to apply for legal aid to get financial help with the costs of family mediation. If you cannot get legal aid, you will have to pay privately for it. You should ask the mediator for a break-down of their charges as these may vary. You should ask about the options and shop around.
You can receive a free mediation session if one of you is getting legal aid.
For more information on financial help with the legal costs of family mediation, see Help with legal costs.
You can find a mediator on the Family Mediation Council's website at www.familymediationcouncil.org.uk.
You can find out more about mediation at www.justice.gov.uk.
If you ask a court to make decisions about arrangements for your children at the end of your relationship, they will usually ask a CAFCASS officer to get involved.
Children and Family Reporters work for the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass). They are independent of the courts and other agencies such as social services, education and health authorities. They are qualified in social work and experienced in working with children and families.
The Children and Family Reporter will try and help you and your partner work out the best possible arrangements for your children.
Sometimes the court will ask you and your partner, and any other parents involved, to meet with the Children and Family Reporter to see if you can sort things out without having to go on with the court case. If you can come to an agreement at this stage, the judge can make an order to confirm what was agreed.
If you can't come to an agreement, the judge can order that a report is produced before the case goes any further.
Court-based dispute resolution schemes are free.
For more information about court-based dispute resolution and Children and Family Reporters, in England visit the Cafcass website at: www.cafcass.gov.uk, and in Wales, see wales.gov.uk.
Family arbitration is a form of dispute resolution which enables couples to reach an agreement about family disputes without going to court. In contrast to family mediation, it is a more formal process and is similar to court proceedings. In addition, an arbitrator's decision, known as an award, is final and binding on the parties.
At present, family arbitration is available only through the Institute of Family Law Arbitrators (IFLA) Scheme. The Scheme covers financial and property disputes on relationship breakdown. It does not cover disputes about children, except for financial disputes.
IFLA strongly recommends you get legal advice before entering into an arbitration agreement.
You cannot get legal aid for arbitration.
For more information about how to apply for arbitration and about the Scheme's rules, contact IFLA at:
Institute of Family Law Arbitrators (IFLA)PO Box 302OrpingtonKentBR6 8QXTel: 01689 820272Email: email@example.com or through the contact form on their websiteWebsite: http://ifla.org.uk/
Information about separation, divorce and family mediation is available from the National Family Mediation website at: www.nfm.org.uk.
www.cafcass.gov.uk (in England)wales.gov.uk (in Wales)
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