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Practical steps when separating

Separating from a partner is a big step, especially when you have children. And all the changes this brings can feel overwhelming. This page explains the most important things think about and do when a relationship ends, and how to decide what to tackle first.

What to do straight away when separating

Other important things to do when separating

People to tell when you separate

If you’ve come to the UK from abroad

If you’ve come here from another country, separating from your partner might affect your immigration status. The rules are complicated, so it’s important to get advice from an immigration specialist (find an immigration adviser). Please bear in mind that you may not be entitled to the benefits mentioned on this page. 

If your visa is based on your relationship, your visa status could change when you separate. Citizens Advice has more on your options for staying and where to get advice.

What to do straight away when separating

Here are some of the most important things to deal with when a relationship is ending.

1. Keep yourself and your children safe

Abuse comes in many forms – it can be emotional, physical, sexual or other types of control. If you or your children have experienced any type of abuse or don’t feel safe in your home, it’s important to end the relationship safely. The free, 24/7 National Domestic Abuse Helpline can help you plan how to leave and find a safe place to stay. See our page on leaving an abusive relationship for more. 

If your partner is violent and won’t leave your home, you can apply for a court order to make them go. You might be able to get free legal advice from Civil Legal Advice. You can also find a solicitor to help you through the Law Society.

2. Know your housing rights

If you were living with your ex-partner, your right to stay in your home will depend on whether you rent or own it, and whether you’re unmarried, married or in a civil partnership. Our page on your housing rights when you separate has more detail.

3. Use the benefits system

When you separate, you might become eligible for new benefits, such as Universal Credit. Or you might be able to get more support through the benefits you’re already on. To get an idea of what you might be entitled to after separating, use one of our benefits checkers or talk to us for tailored advice.

If you were claiming benefits as a couple, you’ll need to tell the benefit agencies straight away that you’re separating. Otherwise, you might get the wrong amount of money. And if you’re overpaid, you’ll have to pay back the extra money.

If you’ve permanently separated from your partner, you can claim benefits as a single person right away. You may not be able to claim if you’re temporarily separated and there’s a chance you’ll get back together. It may also be harder to claim if you’re still living together, although this is sometimes possible. 

Benefits agencies sometimes use credit reference agencies to check who’s registered at your address. So if your ex-partner is moving out, make sure that they change their address with their bank and other agencies. This will mean they’re no longer registered as living at your address. Make sure that their name is taken off utility bills and your council tax bill. If they’re still getting post at your address, this might cause problems later on. Keeping a record of which organisations you’ve told about the change and when can help you and your ex-partner stay on track.

Potential benefits

Benefit Who it’s for Where to find out more and apply
Universal Credit  If you’re looking for work or on a low income Universal Credit online service
Child Benefit  The main carer of the children Child Benefit online
25% Council Tax discount  Households with only 1 adult or on a low income Your local council
4. Contact your bank

If you have a joint bank account, it’s important to contact the bank as soon as you know you’ll be separating. If you don’t already have your own account, you’ll need to open one. MoneyHelper has lots of advice for dealing with banks.

Talk to your ex-partner to try to make sure you can both access the money in your joint account until you set up new accounts. If you can’t agree how to handle the money side of things, you could try meditation to sort things out.

If you’re worried that your ex-partner will take money out of the account without your permission, speak to the bank. You can change the way the account is set up so that you both have to agree when money is taken out. If your ex-partner runs up an overdraft, you’ll be responsible for repaying the money. So it’s very important to let your bank know about your separation.

You or your ex-partner can ask the bank to freeze the joint account. And it can only be unfrozen with permission from you both. Before you do this, think about what you’ll do about any Direct Debits or standing orders coming out of the account.

If there isn’t much money in the joint account or you’re not going to use it anymore, you can ask the bank to close it. You both need to agree to this. If there’s an overdraft on the account, this will need to be paid off first. So you’ll also need to agree with your ex-partner how this will happen. 

It’s also important to deal with the credit cards you both use. If your ex-partner is an additional card holder on any of your cards, you’ll probably want to make sure the card is stopped.

Protect yourself from financial abuse

If your partner controls your money or puts debts in your name, this is called financial abuse. This can happen to anyone, and there are places to go for help and things you can do. Learn how to spot the signs and leave safely if this sounds like your situation.

5. Protect your joint assets

If you’re married or in a civil partnership and you think your ex-partner will try to sell or give away your property or things you own together, you can apply to the court for an injunction to stop them. You usually have to start the process to end your marriage or civil partnership before you can do this. You’ll need to give the court as much information as possible about what you own together and prove that your partner is likely to sell or get rid of them. It’s a good idea to get legal help when taking this step.

Other important things to do when separating

Here are some things you’ll need to take care of at some point during your separation.

1. Agree child contact arrangements

It’s usually best for children to spend time with both their parents, as long as this is safe. There are no set rules about children spending time with their parents. In some families, the child sleeps over and spends time at both parents’ homes. In others, the child lives with one parent all or most of the time, and visits their other parent from time to time.

It’s really up to you and your child’s other parent to agree a routine that works for your child. Their needs should always be at the heart of your decision.

See our advice on making child contact arrangements for more.

2. Make arrangements for child maintenance

It’s important to agree on a fair way to share the cost of raising your child. You can either do this informally with their other parent, or use the Child Maintenance Service to assess what they should pay and collect regular payments. More about arranging child maintenance (gov.uk)

Our page on arranging child maintenance also outlines your options.

If you’re married or in a civil partnership, you may be able to apply to the courts for maintenance for yourself. In this case, your ex-partner will pay money for your needs as well as your child’s. It’s a good idea to get legal advice before doing this.

3. Get advice about debts

If there are any bills or debts in your name, you’ll be responsible for paying them even if you didn’t spend the money yourself. Both you and your ex-partner will be responsible for debts in both your names. If your ex-partner refuses to pay a joint debt, you may be asked to repay it. You won’t have to pay any debts that are only in your ex-partner’s name.

Dealing with debt can be stressful and overwhelming, but there are lots of free advice services to help. StepChange or National Debtline are just a few examples – see our page on dealing with debt for more.

4. Make or change your will

If you don’t yet have a will, it’s important to make one. This is especially important for single parents – you can specify who will care for your children and inherit the things you own when you die

If you’re married or in a civil partnership and haven’t yet legally separated, your ex-partner could inherit the things you own if you die without making a will. If you made a will before your separation, this may need to be changed.

See our page on future finances for more.

People to tell when you separate

Your landlord or mortgage lender

Before you do this, find out what your rights are. Citizens Advice can help, or you can talk to us about your options.

Your children’s school

It’s important for the school to know what’s going on. This helps teachers understand any unusual behaviour – and they can let you know if your child is struggling. Tell the school if the person who collects your child changes. They’ll also need contact details for both parents to send reports and other information, and in case of an emergency. It will help if you can make clear decisions with your ex-partner about how each of you will be involved with the school.

The Land Registry

If you’re married or in a civil partnership and your partner owns the property, you might need to apply for ‘home rights’ to help stop your partner from selling your home. How to go about this will depend on whether the property is registered and whose name is on the title deeds. See more about staying in your partner’s property during a divorce or separation.

Jobcentre Plus

If you claim benefits from Jobcentre Plus, it’s important to tell them about the change. The benefits you can claim as a single parent will depend on your circumstances.


If you claim tax credits, you need to tell HMRC about the change within 1 month of separating. If Child Benefit is paid to your ex-partner, you’ll have to apply for the benefit to be paid to you.

Your council

If you get Housing Benefit or help with your Council Tax, tell your local council about your separation. If you don’t get any help at the moment, you may be able to make a new claim – for example, for the 25% Council Tax reduction for households with only one adult.

Utility companies

You might need to change the name on your gas, electricity, water or phone bills. Ask the companies about their policies for dealing with joint debts when a couple has separated. Make sure you take meter readings and use these to negotiate paying the bill with your ex-partner. Some companies might also be able to give you financial support, depending on your situation.

Insurance companies

You might need to let home, car or life insurance policies know about the change. This might also involve writing or updating your will.

Your employer

Let your employer know if your emergency contact has changed.

Private pension companies

If you have a pension, you might want to change the name of your nominated beneficiary (the person who would receive your pension if you die).

Your GP and other health professionals

You may need to change the details of the person who is contacted about appointments or in emergencies.

TV Licensing

If the TV license is in your name and you move, you’ll need to let them know about your new address. If it’s in your partner’s name, you may need to transfer it to yours or get your own license.


If you have a car and move or change the ownership, you’ll need to let the DVLA know.

Post Office

You might need to ask the Post Office to redirect your mail. There is a charge for this.

Date last updated: 28 June 2023

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