Ending a relationship

The process for ending a relationship will depend on whether you are separating, getting a divorce or dissolving a civil partnership.


In legal terms you become separated from your child’s other parent as soon as the two of you start living apart. No formal legal document or process is needed for this.

This means that from the moment one of you moves out of the family home you both are classed as separated for the purposes of things like tax and benefits.

It is also possible to be legally classed as ’separated’ even while you are still sharing a home – as long as you don’t share a bed, your meals or household chores.

If you separate, you should tell HM Revenue & Customs (and, if you receive any state benefits, Jobcentre Plus), about this change to your circumstances. You will also need to tell them if you start living together again.

See Financial help for separated parents for more information.

Divorce and dissolution orders

If you or the other parent wants to formally end your marriage or civil partnership then you will need to get divorced or dissolve the partnership.

The process for doing this is as follows:

  • decide on what grounds you are filing for divorce
  • file a divorce petition
  • apply for a decree nisi
  • receive your decree absolute

You may want to speak to a solicitor at the stage where you are filing the petition. You don’t have to do this, but they will explain your options, with the likely cost of each one.

When you receive your decree absolute,  you are no longer married in the eyes of the law.

Statement of arrangements for children

You will need to include a ’statement of arrangements for children’ with your divorce petition.

This document should include details of your children’s needs and the childcare, contact and financial arrangements you have already made or intend to make.

It will be better for everyone involved if you can agree the things in the statement before your divorce petition is filed.

If the court handling your divorce isn’t satisfied by the arrangements it can refuse to grant your divorce until new arrangements are drawn up.

Dividing property and belongings

You may also need to decide how you will split any money, belongings and property. If you can’t agree between yourselves, the court can decide for you.

This is another area where you may find it useful to get legal advice. A solicitor can help you get an idea of what a court might decide, and you could use that as the basis for negotiating with your children’s other parent.

You may also find that a specialist family mediator can help you reach an agreement.

Find out more about mediation.

Ending a co-habiting relationship

If you’re not married or in a civil partnership then you don’t need to take any legal steps to formally end your relationship.

The law treats unmarried couples differently to those in marriages or civil partnerships, even if they’ve been living together for a long time or have children together.

In England and Wales, unmarried parents don’t have any specific legal rights, duties or responsibilities towards each other - although they do have them towards their children.

In Scotland, the law does make some allowances for co-habiting relationships. You still don’t have the same rights as married people or civil partners, but there is some legal protection for people who will be financially worse off when the relationship ends.

For more information about your rights and responsibilities, see Child maintenance and the law.

Further help if you’re ending a marriage or civil partnership

HM Courts and Tribunal Service produces a series of leaflets (reference numbers D183, D184 and D185) to help people applying for a divorce or civil partnership. Find them using the HMCTS Form Finder (external website).