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Divorce and separation

Dad holding son and hugging himThere’s a lot to think about when a relationship ends and it can be a very difficult time for you and your children. You may be worried about money, work and what the future holds. It can sometimes feel easier to ignore some of the practical issues that accompany the end of a relationship, such as sorting out property or debts, but this may make things harder to deal with later on and could mean you’re missing out on money that your family is entitled to.

Separating from a partner

‘Action to take when a relationship ends’ is a step by step guide covering what to do when you are separating from a partner. The factsheet includes things to do straight away, people to tell, practical suggestions for how to reach agreements with your ex-partner, benefits you may be able to claim and next steps to take. There’s also information on housing rights and useful checklists to help you keep on-track.

Thinking of divorce?

To apply for divorce you must have been married for at least a year and give one of five set reasons why you want to divorce. Find out more about the reasons (called grounds) you can use to apply for a divorce or visit

If you are thinking of applying for a divorce it will help if you and your ex-partner can agree on issues such as what to do about money, debts and arrangements for your children before you apply. Click here for information and tips on negotiating with your ex-partner, including using a mediator or solicitor. 

Advicenow produces a useful guide, which explains the law and process of applying for a divorce in plain English. The Money Advice Service also has information on divorce and separation.

Talking to your children about separation or divorce

What do you tell your children? How much will they understand? What questions can you expect and how can you support them?

Talking to your children about the end of their parents’ relationship is bound to be stressful, and you may feel very worried about getting it wrong. However you approach it, be yourself. It's common for children to blame themselves for their parent's separation. Explain that you love them and it's not their fault, and keep reassuring them. This is particularly important for younger children. 

There are lots of useful resources to help you work out what to say to your children and how best to support them, whatever their age.

Making arrangements for your children

It's generally agreed that, where possible, it’s best for children to have a relationship with both their parents. However, this can sometimes be easier said than done. When a relationship breaks down or a child moves between their parents’ homes emotions can be running high. Lots of single parents find they need some support to help make workable arrangements with their child’s other parent.

When you start planning, try to think about what is in the best interests of your child in the long term as well as the immediate future. For example, you may feel your child would benefit from keeping in touch with their mother in the long run, even if their relationship is not good at the moment. Encouraging your child to send cards, texts or emails if they don’t want to visit is a good way of keeping links to their other parent intact.

If younger children are reluctant to see their other parent, you may have to help to make visits happen. If your child is older, try to take their wishes into account when organising the arrangements.

If your child used to live with their other parent try to remember how you felt when your child lived away from you. Consider whether there is anything you can do to make the arrangements easier for everyone.

Sometimes it just won’t be possible for your child to have contact with their other parent, perhaps because it is not safe or because the other parent is unable or unwilling to see the child. This can be very difficult for your child to come to terms with, and they will need your support. Read more about helping your child through difficult situations in our factsheet.

Child maintenance

All parents have a responsibility to support their child financially. Child maintenance usually includes payment of regular amounts of money to the parent who the child lives with most of the time.

Child maintenance has to be paid for children who are:

  • Under 16
  • Under 20 in full-time non-advanced education (eg A-levels or equivalent)
  • A 16 or 17 year old who has left full-time education but has registered for work or training. In this situation, you must still be receiving child benefit for the young person.

There are different ways to set up an arrangement for child maintenance and it’s up to you to choose the one that best suits your circumstances. Some parents choose to make private arrangements, while others need to use the Child Maintenance Service. The amount you receive depends on how much your child's other parent earns, if their child stays with them, and whether they have other children or live with other children. Your child's other parent has to pay child maintenance regardless of whether or not they spend time with their child.