How do we sort money after a break up?

Not only does breaking up hurt, it can come with a lot of admin if you’re living together. Here’s some useful support to help you manage your money, housing and possessions following a split. 

couple standing away from each other looking upset

If you’ve been living with your partner and your relationship ends, you don’t have to take legal action to separate. However, you may need to sort out issues surrounding children, housing, property and money. You can do this informally or use a formal agreement, called a ‘separation agreement’.

Who do we need to tell if we split up?

If you decide to stop living together, it’s important to let the benefits office in particular know as this may affect the amount you get. Here’s a list of other places you may need to contact:

Landlord or housing office

How do we share out our belongings and money?

Dividing up possessions can be particularly tricky if certain items were bought jointly but an informal agreement over who owns what is the ideal solution. You might be able to agree on certain conditions for dividing possessions, such as claiming anything you bought before you cohabited. Generally, the person who bought an item will have a right to own it.

If you have separate bank accounts, neither can have access to the money held in each other’s accounts. But if you have a joint account, you both have access to the money held there. However, if one partner didn’t use the account it may be hard for them to claim any right to this money. While you’re trying to come to an agreement, it might be a good idea to freeze the account to prevent your partner withdrawing some or all of the money in the meantime.

You will be liable for any debts that are in your name only, but not for any which are just in your partner’s name. However, you may be responsible for any debts in joint names. Also, if your partner has a debt for which you have acted as guarantor, you will be legally responsible for paying it.

What about our home, if we live together?

Your legal rights depend on your status as a tenant or homeowner:

  • If you’re the partner of a tenant, you’ll usually have no right to stay in the property if they ask you to leave. But if you need to stay in the home – perhaps because you have children or nowhere else to go – then you should consult an experienced adviser, such as a family law solicitor. You may get short-term rights to stay in the home if you apply to court. Call the Money for Life helpline on 0808 801 0666 for support.
  • If you’re a joint tenant, you will have equal rights and responsibilities. If you and your ex can agree on who should stay in the home, you should ask the landlord to take the person leaving off the tenancy agreement and have a new tenancy agreement drawn up in your sole name. If you can’t agree, you should consult a legal adviser to help you decide whether a court should resolve the issue.
  • If you’re the sole owner, you have a right to stay in the home although your partner may be able to claim a ‘beneficial interest’ in it (see below).
  • If you’re joint owners, you will both have equal rights to stay in the home. If one of you wants to leave, you should seek legal advice at the first opportunity. There are different ways two people can legally own property and your solicitor will be able to advise you of the implications of these, as well as deal with the sale or purchase. Sometimes, one partner will buy the other out, but in all cases you should approach the mortgage lender to ensure that the leaving partner has been released from his or her obligations under the mortgage.

Do I have any rights if my ex owns the house?

If your ex is the sole owner of the home, you may be able to claim long-term rights to the property if you can show you have a ‘beneficial interest’ in it. This is a way of getting a court to formally recognise any contributions you made to the home, such as paying utility bills or paying for home improvements. If you can prove this, you might be able to get the right to live in the home, prevent your ex from living there or get a share of the proceeds if the home is sold.

How do we go about making a ‘separation agreement’?

A separation agreement is a written agreement between a couple who wish to stop living together. It contains details about how money, property and childcare arrangements should be dealt with. Separation agreements aren’t compulsory, but they can be a good idea to avoid any future disputes. It’s advisable to consult a solicitor to help you draw one up. You can search for legal aid solicitors on the Gov.UK website.

Do I have to support my ex financially?

If unmarried, neither partner has a legal duty to support the other financially, either during or after the relationship. However, a separation agreement might include a point that states, for example, that you will continue to provide financial support to your ex unless they start living with a new partner.

More information

  • Citizens Advice Bureau offer free help with housing, money and legal problems. Find your local bureau.
  • The Mix is a free, confidential multichannel service giving young people in the UK the support, information and practical tools they need to be healthier, happier and more resilient.
  • Go to Money Advice Service for free and impartial money advice.