Sometimes it's better to end it, however painful, rather than carry on with a relationship that's not right for you. If you hang on to a partner when you know that you don't want to be with them, you're depriving them of the chance of meeting somebody new.

Barbara Honey, Senior Practice Consultant, Relate

What you need to do

Once you’ve made the decision to go your separate ways, there’s a lot to consider. You’ll need to:

  • divide your property and money
  • make arrangements for your children if necessary
  • apply for a divorce or dissolution if you're married or in a civil partnership
  • work out what help you need
  • tell people, like the Pension Service and your bank or building society.

You’ll also have to think about the practicalities, such as where you’ll live and how you’ll manage financially.

How to get a divorce

You must send paperwork to a court to apply for a divorce. You can get a divorce if you’ve been married at least a year and the relationship has broken down. You’ll have to prove this by giving one of the following reasons:

  • adultery
  • desertion
  • unreasonable behaviour
  • you’ve lived apart for two years (if both parties agree)
  • you’ve lived apart for five years (if your partner doesn’t consent).

If your husband or wife lacks mental capacity and can’t agree to a divorce or take part in the divorce case, you can still can apply for a divorce. They’ll need someone to make decisions for them, called a litigation friend. This could be a close family member, a friend or someone else who can represent them.

You can find more information about how to get a divorce on Your local Citizens Advice can help you fill in the divorce form. If you both agree, it usually takes between four and six months to finalise a divorce.

Ending a civil partnership

Civil partners need to apply for a dissolution. The grounds for ending a civil partnership are almost the same as for a divorce, but don’t include adultery, which refers specifically to marriage.

If you’re cohabiting

You have fewer rights and there is no such thing as a common law marriage in England. You may be able to separate without involving a solicitor if you can agree about how to divide up your money and property. The Money Advice Service has more information on sorting out your finances.

How much does it cost?

When you get a divorce or dissolution, you’ll have to pay court costs. You may be able to get help with costs if you’re on certain benefits or your savings and income are below a certain amount. If you take legal advice you’ll also have to pay legal fees. The amount depends on how much work the solicitor does for you and what they charge. They may offer a fixed price service or charge by the hour.

If you and your ex-partner both agree and your finances are straightforward, you could have a do-it-yourself divorce or dissolution with little or no involvement from a solicitor. This is the cheapest option. You’ll still need to go through the formal legal process and it’s a good idea to have at least one meeting with a specialist family lawyer as there may be things you haven’t considered. They can make sure that any agreement is legally binding and that you’ve understood the full implications.

Your money and property

The most expensive part of divorce or dissolution is sorting out your finances. If you and your partner agree about how to divide your money and property, you can avoid going to court. The Money Advice Service has a useful divorce and money calculator to help you work out your finances. You can also download Advice Now’s guide to sorting out your finances.

A mediator can help you come to an agreement. It’s now compulsory for couples to at least attend a meeting to learn about mediation before applying for a court ruling on a divorce or dissolution case involving children or a financial settlement. Mediation is usually cheaper than going to court and you may be able to get help with costs. You can get more information from the Family Mediation Council.

If the divorce or dissolution is acrimonious, you may need to act quickly to protect your rights to your home and finances. You’ll need to tell your mortgage lender that you’re breaking up if you have a mortgage.

Your pension may be one of your most important assets after your home. The rules about what happens after dissolution or divorce are quite complicated and it’s a good idea to get legal advice.

You may also need to change your will. Once your divorce or dissolution is finalised, any money or property left to your former spouse or partner won’t go to them but the rest of your will is still valid. Until then, your will is valid so you may want to consider making an interim will. You’ll also need to work out whether you have enough life insurance or if you need to get some. You can’t divide a joint life insurance policy.

You can find lots more information about the financial implications of divorce or dissolution on the Money Advice Service website.

Coping with your feelings

No matter who instigates a break up, the end of a relationship can produce a complicated mixture of feelings, including anger, sadness, freedom, guilt, and failure. You may have more energy and see it as a new beginning. Or you may be left with painful feelings. Even if it’s a relief, it can feel like a bereavement but without the rituals that help you come to terms with a loss.

You can find advice to help you deal with your emotions on the Relate website. You could also consider counselling.

Telling people

If possible, try to agree with your partner what you’ll tell people and plan how you’ll respond to difficult questions. It’s up to you how much you say but in the long run you may find that it’s best to keep the details private.

Even for adult children, it can be hard when parents separate or divorce. Your children need to be able to continue a relationship with both of you so try to stay neutral when telling them if you can.

As well as family and friends, you may also need to tell:

  • the tax office
  • your Council Tax office
  • your mortgage lender
  • the Pension Service
  • the relevant benefits offices
  • your bank or building society.

Moving on

It may take time to adjust to your new situation. As well as the emotional impact, which can go on for some time, you may have to get used to dealing with more practical matters on your own, such as managing your money, looking after your home or cooking for yourself.

Citizens Advice has a useful budgeting tool to help you work out your finances and you might now be eligible to claim additional benefits, such as Pension Credit, Housing Benefit and Council Tax Support. You could use our benefit calculator to work out what you’re entitled to or call our Helpline and arrange to speak to an adviser. You could also contact the Pension Service for advice on whether you can use your ex-spouse or civil partner’s National Insurance record to increase your State Pension.

It’s important for your wellbeing to stay in touch or meet new people. If you’ve lost some of your social networks or feel lonely, there are many ways to feel more connected. If you feel ready for a new relationship, see our dating advice.

Next steps

You can find legal specialists through the Law Society.

You might be able to get free initial legal advice through a Law Works legal advice clinic or from the Disability Law Service.

If you’re in a same-sex relationship and want advice about divorce or dissolution, contact Stonewall.

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