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Sorting Finances after Common Law Separation

Partners often choose to live in a common law relationship, instead of getting married. So, what is the best way to sort out finances when cohabiting couples separate?

Assessing and Handling the Situation

As a rule, common law couples who separate have fewer rights than those who get divorced or dissolve a civil partnership.

But, there are several ways to make a breakup less complex. You would need to assess your own situation and then choose how best to handle the separation.

A break up is always less problematic if you can agree how to divide your assets. For most, that means money, property, and personal possessions.

There is always a formal legal process to go through in a divorce or a dissolution. But, cohabiting couples who live together can avoid using a solicitor when they part.

Even so, there may be a valid reason for taking legal advice or using mediation. A mediator is a an impartial third party that may help you reach agreement.

It would be best to get some legal representation if you and your ex-partner cannot reach agreements on:

  • Arrangements for your children.
  • Financial debts or loans that you have.
  • How to split up the things that you own.
  • The property that you cohabited in.

Handling a common law separation varies from case to case, but it usually requires choosing between:

  • Arranging the entire dissociation by yourselves.
  • Using mediation services to see if independent help can get an agreement.
  • Getting legal advice from a solicitor. They will explain the options if either of the ex-partners is likely to make a claim against the other one.

Note: The legal costs of arguing with an ex-partner through a solicitor can be expensive (especially if it goes to court).

Simple Steps for Agreeing on Finances

Sorting out finances when cohabiting couples separate is not always a straightforward process. Even so, following these steps should make the parting a little easier:

  1. Draw up a list of things that you own and remember to include any debts that you may have. Often, it will include a home and household items, savings, and a car. In most separations, the person who owns an item gets the entitlement to keep it. But, you should not rule out your ex-partner trying to make a claim to it.
  2. You may need to consult experts if you are unsure of what the possessions are actually worth. Check the value of properties similar to yours in a local estate agent, online, or newspaper.
  3. The next step will be working out how to divide money and possessions. You also need to decide who is going to pay off any outstanding bills and loans.
  4. Dividing the family home (and a mortgage) when cohabiting couples separate is rarely simple. It becomes much simpler if you can agree on how to divide the home. If not, the path to a solution may depend on where you live in the United Kingdom.
  5. All parents need to make sure their children get looked after. In most cases, it will involve payments towards the costs of their upbringing (see below). Child arrangements are easier when both parents agree on a suitable parenting plan for their children.

Note: Drawing up a written agreement helps both ex-partners stick to the plan. Having a checklist can reduce any confusion after you have separated (see below).

Seeking Legal or Professional Help

It can be a complicated task for couples to agree on splitting up finances. Or, you may agree on some monetary items but fail to reach agreement on others. Using an impartial third party may help to broker an agreement (e.g. a mediator).

In most cases, you are going to need professional legal advice or the services of a solicitor if one if the ex-partners:

  • Took out a loan for the other partner and they cannot (or will not) pay it.
  • Does not own the home but they want to make a financial claim against the other partner.
  • Has a joint business or home with the other partner and cannot agree on how to divide them.
  • Has a joint mortgage with the other partner and cannot agree who should pay what amount.
  • Drew up a ‘living together agreement’ setting out how to split up the finances, but they are refusing to stick to it.

Making a Claim through the Courts

Things start to get a bit messy if the ex-partner refuses to negotiate is ignores legal rights in United Kingdom. In this case, you may have no choice but to go to court and make a claim against them.


You may be eligible to make a claim against the ex-partner if you have been ‘economically disadvantaged’. Put in simple terms, it means you are worse off ‘financially’. A similar situation may also apply if the ex-partner became ‘economically advantaged’ because of the relationship.

Note: You would need to bring a claim within 12 months of breaking up. As a rule, you can only make a claim for a lump sum (not ongoing payments).

Northern Ireland

Making a claim against an ex-partner differs in Northern Ireland. If you moved into your ex-partner’s property you might get a return of money that you paid towards the mortgage.

England and Wales

You might qualify to claim a ‘beneficial interest’ in the home (or other property). It could apply if the ex-partner owns it and you had an agreement (or expectation) that you would get a share of its value if you broke up.


Arrange Child Support Yourself | Some advantages of arranging child maintenance without using CSA.
Separation Checklist | Check what couples need to know, and do, when separating or getting divorced.

Costs of Using Court Action

The rules on taking action through court systems are complex and can be costly. It would be wise to discuss the issue with a solicitor specialising in disputes between cohabiting couples who are breaking up.

Sorting Out Finances after Cohabitation and Separation in the United Kingdom