Action to take when a relationship ends

Date last updated: 19 June 2018

Action to take when a relationship ends

There is a lot to think about when a relationship ends, especially when you have children. This factsheet has checklists of things to think about and do when a relationship ends, and how to decide
what to tackle first.

Note: If you have come from abroad you should get advice from an immigration specialist; you may not be entitled to the benefits mentioned on this page, and your separation may affect your immigration status. You should contact the Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner or the Refugee Council.

Advice on separation

What to do straight away

The following should be dealt with urgently.
Depending on your situation you might need urgent legal advice.

  1. Protect yourself and your children
  2. Know your housing rights
  3. Claim benefits and tax credits
  4. Contact your bank
  5. Protect joint assets.

1. Protect yourself and your children

If you are experiencing, or have experienced violence, or if you don’t feel safe to stay in your home, contact the National Domestic Violence Helpline. Domestic violence takes different forms and could be emotional abuse, physical or sexual violence, or excessive control over money. The helpline can help you plan to leave your home if you need to, and can refer you to safe emergency accommodation.

If your ex-partner is violent and refuses to leave, you can apply for an order for you to stay in the home, and to make your ex-partner leave. A solicitor can help you apply, and you may be able to get help with the costs through legal aid. To find a solicitor contact Civil Legal Advice.

2. Know your housing rights

Your housing rights will depend on what type of housing you live in, and whether you are married or in a civil partnership, or cohabiting when the relationship ends.

Click here to read our information on housing rights when you separate.

3. Claim benefits and tax credits

Separating from your partner could mean that you become entitled to benefits and tax credits that you weren’t entitled to as a couple, or the amount you receive might increase based on your new circumstances.

If you were claiming benefits as a couple, you need to tell the relevant benefit agencies straight away to avoid a penalty and being overpaid or losing out on money. Depending on which benefits you claim you may need to contact Jobcentre Plus, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) and your local council. You can call the Gingerbread Single Parent Helpline to check your benefit entitlement.

If you have permanently separated from your partner you can claim benefits as a single person straight away. You may not be able to claim if your separation is temporary or on a trial basis and there is a chance you will get back together. It may also be more difficult to claim if you are still living in the same house, although it is sometimes possible. In these circumstances contact the Gingerbread Single Parent Helpline for more advice.

Benefits agencies do sometimes use credit reference agencies to check who is registered as living at your address. If your ex-partner is moving out make sure that they change their address with their bank and other agencies so that they are no longer registered at your address. Make sure that their name is taken off any utility bills and the council tax bill. If their post continues to come to your home this may cause problems later on. Keeping a record of which organisations have been contacted and when will help you and your ex-partner stay on track.

The benefits you may be entitled to are listed below.

Benefits you may be entitled to

Benefit

Who is it for?

Where to apply?

Child benefit Parents who have day-to-day responsibility for a child under the age of 16 or under the age of 20 if they are in full-time non-advanced education or training. If you receive child benefit and your income is over £50,000 a year you will have to pay an additional tax called the ‘high income child benefit charge’. HMRC child benefit helpline
Child tax credit Parents who have day-to-day responsibility for a child under the age of 16 or under the age of 20 if they are in full-time non-advanced education or training. HMRC tax credit helpline
Income support or jobseeker’s allowance Parents who do not work or work less than 16 hours a week may be able to claim. See our factsheet for more information. Jobcentre Plus
Employment and support allowance If you have a health condition or disability you may be entitled to this benefit instead of Jobseekers allowance or Income support. See our factsheet for more information Jobcentre Plus
Council tax reduction schemes Those responsible for paying the council tax bill. Whether you are entitled depends on your local scheme. Contact your local council for details. Local council
Housing benefit Help for people who rent their home. You may be able to claim even if you are working. Whether you are entitled depends on your income and savings. Local council
Working tax credit Help for single parents who work 16 hours a week or more. The amount you get depends on how much you earn. You may be able to get help with the cost of childcare. See our factsheet for more information. HMRC tax credit helpline
Budgeting loan Those in receipt of income support, income-based jobseeker’s allowance, income-related employment and support allowance or pension credit and have been in receipt of one of these benefits for at least 26 weeks. You may be able to get an interest-free loan for items such as furniture, clothing, advance rent or travel expenses. Jobcentre Plus
Universal credit Universal credit is a new benefit system that will replace many of the current benefits and tax credits. Families with children who are claiming benefits for the first time in selected jobcentres may claim universal credit. For more information on universal credit and how it may affect your family you can visit the universal credit section of our website or call our helpline. Jobcentre Plus

(only in areas that are offering universal credit to families)

4. Contact your bank

It is important to deal with joint bank accounts quickly. You should take steps to prevent the account being used without your permission or have the account closed. If your ex-partner runs up an overdraft facility, you will be liable to repay the money, so it is important to notify your bank of the situation.

You can contact your bank to cancel the mandate (the instruction to the bank) that was signed by both of you when the account was opened. The arrangement can be changed so that withdrawals can only be made with both signatures, or the account can be closed and a separate one opened. If you have used an overdraft facility on the account the bank is unlikely to agree to close it, so you will need to negotiate with your ex-partner about how it will be repaid. The bank might freeze the account if you tell them you are separating, or if either of you ask them to freeze the account. It can only be unfrozen with permission from you both. If possible, speak with your ex-partner about the accounts so that you can both access the money you need until new accounts are set up.

If you do not have your own bank account, you will need to open one. For advice on opening a bank account contact the Money Advice Service.

Take steps to deal with any credit cards you both use. You cannot get joint credit cards, but you can have an additional card holder. If a credit card is in your name and your ex-partner is an additional card holder, you may wish to contact the credit card company to make sure the card is stopped.

5. Protect joint assets

If you are married or in a civil partnership, you can apply to the court for an order to prevent your ex-partner from selling or giving away property or other assets. You will usually have to start divorce (dissolution for civil partners) proceedings first. You will need to provide as much information as possible about the assets and prove to the court that they are likely to be sold or disposed of. You should get help from a solicitor to do this.

What to do next

The following should be dealt with shortly after
separation. The best time to do them will depend on
your individual circumstances and whether you have
urgent tasks to deal with.

  1. Work out arrangements for the children
  2. Make arrangements for child maintenance
  3. Get advice about debts
  4. Make a will

1. Work out arrangements for the children

It is usually in the best interests of a child to spend time with both of their parents, as long as it is safe. There are no set rules about what the arrangements for children should be; it is up to you and your child’s other parent to make an arrangement that works for your child. You should always keep your child’s needs at the heart of your decision making.

Where will your child live and when will they spend time with each parent? Every family situation is different. Some choose to have an arrangement where the child spends time and sleeps over at both parents’ homes on a regular basis. In other families the child will live with one parent all or most of the time, and make visits to see their other parent. Whatever agreement you come to, it’s important that it works for you as a family.

For more information on making decisions about when your child will spend time with
each parent see the Gingerbread factsheet Making arrangements for your children.

2. Make arrangements for child maintenance

The Child Maintenance Options service can tell you about your options for organising child maintenance, including setting up a family-based arrangement with your ex-partner. This means you organise the maintenance informally between yourselves. Alternatively, you can apply to the Child Maintenance Service to assess and collect maintenance.

For more information, read the factsheet Making arrangements for child maintenance, which outlines your options for arranging child maintenance.

Maintenance if you are married or in a civil partnership

If you’re married or in a civil partnership, you may be able to apply to the courts for maintenance for yourself. This means that your former partner pays money for your needs, not just those of your child. You would need advice from a solicitor on whether this is worth pursuing, as any payments would have to be realistically affordable, will depend on your particular circumstances and your legal costs may be expensive.

3. Get advice about debts

You are responsible for any bills or debts that are in your name, even if you have not spent the money. You and your ex-partner are also responsible for debts that are in joint names. If your ex-partner refuses to pay a joint debt you may be asked to repay all of it. You should not be responsible for debts that are in your ex-partner’s name only.

Start by getting specialist advice to work out which debts you must pay and what your options are for dealing with them. See page eight for organisations that provide free specialist debt advice.

4. Make or alter a will

If you have not made a will, you should do so now to ensure that any assets you have are left to the people you want to leave them to. If you are married or in a civil partnership and have separated but not yet divorced, your ex-partner could be entitled to your assets if you don’t make a will. If you made a will before your separation it will still be valid, so it may need to be changed.

You might need to appoint a guardian for your child in the event of your death. If you are the only person with parental responsibility this is particularly important. See the Gingerbread factsheet Parental responsibility.

Checklist of people to tell

Use the checklist below to help you.

People to tell

Things to think about

Done

Your mortgage lender or landlord Find out what your rights are to stay in the property and any options you have first. Contact the Gingerbread Single Parent Helpline for advice on whether you can claim housing benefit or help with paying your mortgage.
Land Registry If you are married or in a civil partnership, your ex-partner owns the property and your name is not on the title deeds or registered as an owner in the Land Register, you should register your home rights (see above).
Jobcentre Plus If you claim benefits from Jobcentre Plus tell them about your change in circumstances. The benefits you are able to claim as a single parent will depend on your circumstances.
HMRC If you claim tax credits you need to tell HMRC about your change in circumstances within one month. You may be able to make a new claim for tax credits and you may receive more than you did as a couple. If child benefit is paid to your ex-partner you will need to apply for the benefit to be paid to you.
Your local council If you receive housing benefit or help with your council tax, tell your local council about your change in circumstances. If you don’t receive help at the moment you may be able to make a claim for the first time.
Council tax To get a 25 per cent reduction on your bill, tell the council tax department at your local council if you are the only adult in your property.
Your bank Sort out joint accounts and credit cards (see above).
Utility companies Tell your gas, electricity, water and telephone company. You may need to change the name on the bill. Take meter readings and use these to negotiate payment with your ex-partner. Ask your supplier for their policy on dealing with joint debts when a couple has separated. They can also provide financial assistance in some circumstances.
Insurance companies For example, home, car or life insurance policies may need to be notified of the change. This may also involve writing or updating your will.
Your employer If the person who should be contacted in an emergency has changed.
Private pension companies If relevant, you may wish to change the name of a nominated beneficiary in the event of your death.
Your children’s school To help teachers understand any unusual behaviour and so they can tell you if your child experiences difficulties. Tell the school if the person who collects your child changes. They will also need contact details for both parents in case of an emergency and to send reports etc. It will help if you can make clear decisions with your ex-partner about how each of you will be involved with the school.
Your GP and other health professionals You may need to change the details of the person who is notified about appointments or contacted in case of an emergency.
TV licensing authority If you have a TV, you will need to tell them about changes to ownership or address.
DVLA Tell the Driver Vehicle Licensing Authority if you have a vehicle and there is a change of ownership or address.
Post Office If necessary, you can ask the Post Office to redirect your mail.

Tips from single parents

Asking for help is hard but important

I talk to my son's teacher and my mum, being frank about not being able to cope. Admitting I need help has been a massive thing for me to learn. It’s a gradual thing, being able to ask for support. But things are a lot easier now.

Mum, 1 child aged 9

Remember stigma can be self-imposed

One thing I’ve learned, I went to work full time thinking people were looking at me - 'single parent on benefits'. I pushed myself to work full time and pay my way. Actually no one cares what I do, the only stigma was what I put on myself. I could have saved myself some stress.

Mum, 1 child aged 9

Try syncing your free weekend with other single parents

At the weekends they’re with their dad. Then it’s for me to find things to do. That’s where the single mums at school have come in handy. They have their weekends synced so that they have their time off from the kids together. It means when you haven’t got the kids, you’ve got someone to ring and ask to do something together.

Mum, 3 children aged 1, 5 and 10

Speak to someone not involved if you can

I chose to have counselling. I just knew I needed to speak to someone who was away from my situation, wasn’t involved emotionally or personally with what’s happened and to have someone to speak to. Once it’s out your head, you’re not mulling it over.

Mum, 2 children aged 7 and 4

Write down how you're feeling

Writing down how you're feeling really helps. I write it on a piece of paper and screw it up. It feels like you’ve spoken to someone and not been judged. You’ve thought about it.

Mum, 1 child aged 4

If you live in Scotland

Our partner organisation, One Parent Families Scotland, offers advice to single parents living in Scotland, on a wide range of issues including child maintenance.

One Parent Families Scotland

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