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Ending a relationship when you're living together

This information applies to Scotland

About this information

This information applies if you want to split up with someone you're living with. It applies whether you're in an opposite-sex or same sex relationship. The information is not correct if you are married or in a civil partnership.

For more information on ending a marriage, see Ending a marriage.
For more information on ending a civil partnership, see Ending 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 - see under heading Separating with a separation agreement.

If you have children, a court can make orders about who the children should live with and have contact with - see under heading Children at the end of your relationship.

A court can also make an order about rights to stay in your home and selling any jointly-owned property - see under heading Housing rights at the end of a relationship.

If you are thinking of going to court to sort out disagreements about the children, money or housing, you should consult an experienced adviser, for example, a family law solicitor. Lists of solicitors can be obtained from your local Citizens Advice Bureau - where to get advice.

Who to inform when your relationship ends

If you and your partner are separating, you may need to inform:-

  • your landlord or housing office
  • your housing benefit office
  • your council tax office
  • your mortgage lender
  • gas, electricity and telephone companies
  • your benefits office
  • your tax office, particularly if you're getting tax credits
  • current school and future school if you have children and they are moving
  • your bank or any other financial institution if you have a joint account. It may be advisable for you to freeze the account to prevent your partner withdrawing some or all of the money
  • hire purchase or credit companies
  • insurance companies, particularly if you have joint policies
  • the post office, if you want mail redirected
  • your doctor, dentist and child health clinic.

Separating with a separation agreement

A separation agreement is a written agreement between a couple who have decided 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:-

  • not to molest, annoy or disturb your former partner
  • to provide financial support (maintenance) for any children of the relationship. Any agreement not to apply to a court or to the Child Maintenance Service in the future does not count legally
  • who the children should live and have contact with.

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 agreement 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.

You may find it helpful to use the guidance on family breakdown produced by the Scottish Government at www.gov.scot PDF .

For more information about help with legal costs, see Help with legal costs.

Children at the end of your relationship

At the end of a relationship you have no rights to have a say in the children's future unless you have parental responsibilities and rights or a court order.

When you are the biological parents of the children and are not married to each other only the mother has full parental responsibilities and rights unless:-

  • you jointly registered the birth of the child on or after 4 May 2006
  • you made and registered a Parental Responsibilities and Parental Rights agreement. The agreement does not take effect until registration
  • a court has made an order giving parental responsibilities and rights to the father.

If you are the father but have no parental responsibilities and rights you still have to support the children financially, see Child Maintenance Service.

If you are in a same sex relationship and one of you is the natural parent, only that partner has automatic parental responsibilities and rights unless a court has made an order giving parental responsibilities and rights to the other partner or if the child was conceived by donor insemination or fertility treatment on or after 6 April 2009. When a child has been conceived in this way the second partner has a number of options about how to be the second legal parent. You can find more information on the website of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority at www.hfea.gov.uk. If you are not the natural parent but are living with her/him and have adopted the children as a single person with the natural parent’s consent, you will share parental responsibilities and rights with the natural parent.

Decisions the court can make

If you cannot agree about what should happen to the children the court can make decisions about:-

  • where the children should live (called a residence order)
  • who the child should make contact with (a contact order)
  • whether the father should have parental responsibilities and rights.

A court will only make decisions about children if it is in the best interests of the child to do so.

If you do not have parental responsibilities and rights you will have to apply to court to stay involved with the children if your partner who has rights doesn't want you to be involved with the children.

You may find it helpful to use a mediation service or collaborative practice to help you reach an agreement without having to go to court.

Financial arrangements at the end of a relationship

At the end of a relationship, both parents are responsible for supporting their children financially regardless of where the children will live. The responsibility can last until a child is 25 if s/he is in training or studying full-time. The responsibility can also extend to children accepted into the family. You may find it helpful to get more details about this from a Citizens Advice Bureau. The father is equally responsible even if he stops living with the mother and even if he is not named on the child's birth certificate but only if he is the natural father. It doesn't matter whether he has got parental responsibilities and rights or not. He can be contacted by the Child Maintenance Service for financial support. For more information about parental responsibility, see under heading Children at the end of your relationship.

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:-

Agreeing on financial support

If you both agree to financial support, this is called a voluntary agreement or family-based agreement. 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 family-based child maintenance agreement, you can contact the Child Maintenance Options Service. Their website is at www.cmoptions.org.

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 or family-based agreement.

For more information about help with legal costs, see Help with legal costs.

The Child Maintenance Service (CMS)

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.

Court orders

In some circumstances, the court can make an order for financial support for the children. It can make an order for financial provision for you or your partner.

A court can make an order for regular payments for specific circumstances, for example, expenses to help with a child's disability. It can also make an order for one partner with parental responsibilities to give money to the person caring for the children. If you want to ask the court to make such an order you have to do so within one year of the date you stopped living together. The court can also make a number of orders about property you have shared. As this can be complicated you should get more details from a Citizens Advice Bureau.

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. Make sure your solicitor explains the charges properly to you before you start court action.

For more information about help with legal costs, see Help with legal costs.

Housing rights at the end of a relationship

At the end of your relationship, a court can give you or your partner rights to the home, for example:-

  • the right to stay in your home
  • the right to come back home to get your things
  • the right to stop your partner from coming into the home.

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 and the housing rights of the violent person may be temporarily set aside whether s/he is the sole owner or tenant or not.

For more information about help you can get if your partner has been violent to you, see Domestic violence.

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 - where to get advice.

Rights to the home for owner-occupiers

If you and your partner live in owner occupied property and only one of you is the owner of the property only the owner has the right to stay in your home.

If the owner wants you to leave, you have to go unless a court has given you rights to stay. If you have children a court might give you rights for 6 months to stay in the home even when you don't own it. You will need more advice about this.

If you don't have children, you may be able to claim a financial interest in your home if you can show you contributed financially by, for example, paying for improvements or towards mortgage repayments. If you have a financial interest in your home you might be able to make a claim to recover money paid towards the home. You'll need to get legal advice about this. You could get help with legal costs.

If you do own your home jointly with your partner and you decide to leave, you should take steps to protect your right to go back there if you want to. You should try and agree about whether the home should be sold. One joint owner can go to court to try and force the sale of the property. You will need to get legal advice about this. You could get help with legal costs.

For more information about help with legal costs, see Help with legal costs

Rights to the home in rented property

What rights you have to stay in the home will depend on whether only one of you is the tenant or you share the tenancy. As a sole tenant you can ask the other partner to leave unless a court grants rights for your partner to stay.

If you have children a court can grant rights for a parent who is not the tenant to stay, initially for 6 months.

When you share the tenancy, you have equal rights to stay in the home. If one partner has been violent a court can exclude the violent partner even if s/he is the sole tenant.

You should get further advice from a Citizens Advice Bureau as your rights can be complicated - where to get advice.

Housing costs at the end of a relationship

Paying the mortgage when a relationship breaks down

If a mortgage is in joint names, both people are jointly and solely liable for the mortgage payments. This is known as joint and several liability.

This means that if one of you leaves and stops contributing to the mortgage payments, the lender can ask the other person to pay the full amount.

If a mortgage is in one person's name, only that person is liable for the mortgage payments.

If you're not married or in a civil partnership and your name isn't on the mortgage, the lender may try and repossess the property. You could offer to make the mortgage payments when your partner leaves and the lender may agree to accept them. However, it doesn't have to accept. If you are in this situation you should get advice.

You can get advice from your local CAB - where to get advice.

Paying the rent when a relationship breaks down

Joint tenancy

A joint tenancy means that all of the tenants named on the tenancy agreement are jointly and solely liable for the rent. This is known as joint and several liability.

If the other joint tenant leaves and stops making payments towards the rent, the landlord can ask the other person to pay the full amount. It's important to keep paying the full amount, otherwise you may get evicted.

In some cases, a joint tenant may end the joint tenancy by giving notice to the landlord. If you want to stay in the property you'll need to make sure this doesn't happen or if it has happened, you can negotiate with the landlord. Your landlord may be able to give you a new tenancy in your name only. If you are in this situation you should get advice.

You can get advice from your local CAB - where to get advice.

Sole tenancy which is not in your name

If a tenancy is in the name of your partner, they will be liable to pay the rent for as long as the tenancy continues. If the rent isn't paid and arrears build up, the landlord may take action to evict you.

If you're not married or in a civil partnership and your name isn't on the tenancy agreement, the landlord may try and evict you. You could offer to pay the rent when your partner leaves and the landlord may agree to accept it. However, it doesn't have to accept. If you are in this situation you should get advice.

You can get advice from your local CAB - where to get advice.

Benefits and housing costs

If you stay in your home after your partner has left, depending on your income, you may be able to get Housing Benefit to help pay the rent. If there is a mortgage, you may be able to get help with the mortgage interest.

For more information about Housing Benefit see, Help with your rent – Housing Benefit.

For more information about help with mortgage interest see, Help with mortgage costs if you're not working.

Family mediation and other help

Family mediation is a way of helping you and your partner sort out disagreements when your relationship breaks down. 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.

For more information and a national map of local services, see www.relationships-scotland.org.uk.

Some local solicitors may be skilled in family mediation. You can check what is available in your area by contacting The Law Society of Scotland:

The Law Society of Scotland
Atria One
144 Morrison Street
Edinburgh
EH3 8EX

Tel: 0131 226 7411
Fax: 0131 225 2934
E-mail: lawscot@lawscot.org.uk
Website: www.lawscot.org.uk

The Spark

The Spark provides relationship counselling services for families, couples, individuals and young people and has regional centres across Scotland where clients can access face to face counselling. Telephone and online counselling is also available. There is a charge for counselling but what you have to pay can be negotiated. The Spark has a relationship helpline offering immediate relationship support. Calls are free from landlines and mobile networks. If you prefer to type rather than talk you can use the webchat instant messaging support service which you can access from the top of the homepage of the website. The contact details are:

The Spark
General enquiries: 0808 802 0050
Relationship Helpline: 0808 802 2088 (Mon, Wed and Thurs 11am-2pm).
Appointments: 0808 802 0050
Email: Contact form available on the website
Website: www.thespark.org.uk

Family breakdown problems and a special family decision-making service

If there are problems in the family because of separation of parents or other carers there are agencies that can help you all to make sure everyone knows how children feel before any decisions are taken. The Family Decision Making Service is run by three organisations all together - One Parent Families Scotland, Parentline Scotland and the Scottish Child Law Centre. They aim to help to reduce conflict and improve collaboration between separated and separating parents using family group decision-making. You can read more about this service on the website of One Parent Families Scotland.

Collaborative practice

Collaborative practice is another way of sorting out disagreements and reaching solutions when your relationship breaks down, without having to go to court. The process involves you and your partner meeting with your solicitors to look at the issues that need to be resolved and trying to reach agreement.

For more information about collaborative family law practice, see www.consensus-scotland.com.

Further information

You can get a summary of this information in our fact sheet, see Ending a relationship when you're living together [PDF 190 kb].

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