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How to start a separation — frequently asked questions

Answers to the most frequently asked questions around separation.

Separating is never an easy decision to make.

Below are various issues that we are regularly asked about to help guide your decision making process and consider what to do next.

Can I change the locks on my house after separation?

The short answer is no — not before you’ve checked your legal position.

If your home is owned jointly with your partner, you share the tenancy of a rental property, or if you are married or in a civil partnership, you both have an equal rights of occupation.

Unless the court has made an occupation order in your favour, you do not have the right to change the locks without the other person’s permission. If you do, you risk criticism from a future court and having to provide them with a key.

If I leave the family home what are my rights?

If you leave you might inadvertently limit your options for spending time with your children, restrict your ability to return to the property, or simply indicate to your partner that the ‘pressure is off’, resulting in a delay in reaching a settlement. Talk it through with a solicitor before making that decision.

How to leave an abusive relationship — what urgent or immediate action can I take?

In some situations, leaving the home in an emergency is unavoidable. The police and family law offer a number of remedies, including occupation orders and non-molestation orders to protect you and any children.

I am really struggling with this — what should I do?

If you separate, you will probably need to resolve some big issues and make major decisions. You need to take steps to support and look after yourself so that you are able to equip yourself with the tools to do so to the best of your ability.

Confiding in family and friends is important, and consider professional support via counselling and mentoring.

It is not a sign of failure to find this difficult.

Are there things I should consider before I discuss separation with my partner?

Yes - you may need to think about your housing options, income requirements, and child arrangements before taking steps to separate, and also consider issues such as whether to make or change a will or nominations for things like pensions or insurances. Early legal advice can be important.

This is especially so if you or your partner have an international connection and are married /civil partners, as the timing and location of divorce/dissolution jurisdiction can be critical.

How do I go about taking some legal advice?

Making an appointment to see a solicitor can seem like a big step. Here are some ideas to think about.

How do I get a legal separation?

There is no legal concept of a legal separation — you are either separated or not — but to bring a marriage or a civil partnership to an end a legal process (divorce or dissolution) must be followed.

How long does legal separation take?

A divorce or civil partnership dissolution will take a minimum of 26 weeks from the date an application is made to court.

How long do you need to be separated before divorce?

There is no timeframe. You can even start a divorce if you haven’t yet separated. The only criteria is that you must have been married for at least one year before bringing the divorce application.

What is a separation agreement?

On a divorce, whether a financial settlement is agreed between the couple, with support from a mediator or solicitor, or imposed by a court (or whichever other way a deal is reached), it is vital to secure the settlement in a binding financial court order.

This enables the order to be enforced, and also provides the parties with protection against future claims being brought by their former spouse or partner. Further guidance on financial consent orders.

In some circumstances, couples enter into a separation agreement rather than a court order, but these can have significant limitations and legal advice should be taken before making the decision to enter into one.

How and when should we tell the kids?

This is a really hard conversation, and so do think about it carefully before taking that step. Plan what you want to say in advance and, ideally, tell the children together, avoiding blame of the other parent and providing plenty of reassurance. There is plenty of online guidance available for you to consider.

For further support on any aspects of separation, please contact our expert divorce solicitors.