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Splitting up when you have been living together

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If you aren't married or in a civil partnership, there is nothing to legally tie you to a relationship. A common misunderstanding is a belief in 'common law marriage' but no such thing actually exists in the UK, therefore a court cannot interfere in the division of assets etc. in the case of a couple (either malefemale or same sex) who have simply been co-habiting. However, a court can help you arrange access to your children, for example.

Some couples draw up 'Cohabitation Contracts' or 'Living Together Agreements' before they move in together - these documents outline the rights and obligations of each partner towards the other. Cohabitation Contracts are not legally enforceable but they can remind a separating couple of their original intentions and pave the way for a smoother break up. If you are living with someone and your relationship is breaking down, you may find Advicenow's Living Together campaign a useful source of information about your current rights: www.advicenow.org.uk/livintogether.

Separation Advice

Separation (as a legal term), is relevant to couples who may wish to formally separate without an immediate divorce or dissolution of their relationship. For some people, for example, divorce - perhaps for reasons of belief or faith - may not be an option. Nonetheless, they may wish to live apart from their former partner but with family and financial arrangements in place. In such cases, a solicitor can help to draw up a Separation Agreement or Deed of separation, which can cover issues such as maintenance, the children and the family home.

Either partner can also take matters further by applying to the court for a Decree of Judicial Separation (a final but less common alternative to divorce often used when one party has a moral or religious objection to divorce). This is a formal matter and you should seek legal advice first.

Divorce Or Dissolution

A divorce or dissolution is an order of the court that formally brings a marriage or a civil partnership to an end leaving both parties free to enter into another (legal) relationship if they wish.

You can get divorced in England and Wales, if you have been married or in a civil partnership for at least a year before divorce or dissolution proceedings can be started, if your relationship has permanently broken down and your marriage is legally recognised in the UK.

The amendment to the procedure to allow for 'no fault' divorce was passed in June 2020 and came into force on the 6th April 2022. Under the new legislation, couples can divorce without having to blame one another and allowing one spouse or the couple jointly to make the mutual decision that the marriage has broken down. The Act also modernises the legal terms used in a divorce, such as the decree nisi, will now be called a 'conditional order' and the decree absolute will be called the 'final order'. There will also be a minimum of 20 weeks between application and divorce becoming final.

You will have to pay a fee of £593 to the courts. If you claim benefits or on a low income you may be able to get help paying the court fee. You can either apply online or with a paper form. Once a decision has been made you may be asked to pay for some or all of your fees.

Divorce, dissolution or separation are unlike other legal situations because they are concerned with emotional as well as practical issues. The lives of the whole family are affected by the outcome, so the way in which the settlement is reached can be almost as important as the settlement itself. Both parties should, therefore, seek the advice of an experienced solicitor or mediator.

Only the individuals concerned can solve all the problems that divorce or separation bring. A good solicitor or mediator, who adopts a constructive and conciliatory approach, can help to reduce much of the distress associated with the ending of a legally binding relationship.

Some couples now enter into a prenuptial agreement outlining what they would expect to happen or be entitled to in the event of their relationship breaking down. Such an agreement may be upheld by a court in the case of a dispute if the marriage fails. It is worth noting that proceedings concerning your children of finances run alongside and separate to the main divorce suit and do not have to be concluded before the final Decree is granted.

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