Relationship breakdown and separation

5 mins read

This advice applies across the UK.

On this page we look at some of the legal and practical issues that you might face if your relationship is breaking down or you and your partner separate.

In this article

Relationship advice and counselling

You might consider talking to a relationship counsellor – they will explore with you the issues in your relationship and help you make changes. You will have regular sessions that can be face-to-face or by telephone.

The counsellor will listen to both of you and will not take sides. The counsellor will respect your ideas about your relationship, as well as suggesting some others.

Visit the UK Counselling Directory website or find help from Relate (England and Wales).

Domestic abuse

All forms of domestic abuse are not acceptable in any situation. If your partner, ex-partner or someone you live with cuts you off from family and friends, bullies or threatens you, stops you from accessing household incomes or takes your benefits, monitors your time with others, including social media, and mobile phone, or physically or sexually abuses you, this is domestic abuse.

Domestic abuse is not always physical violence. It can also be:

  • coercive control and ‘gaslighting’
  • economic abuse
  • online abuse
  • threats and intimidation
  • emotional abuse
  • sexual abuse

If you’re experiencing domestic abuse, it’s important to remember that it’s not your fault, you are not alone.

It may seem like a difficult step to take, but there is help and support available.  

Free, confidential support and advice is available 24 hours a day.

Visit for national helplines and more information to help you stay safe.

Relationship breakdown and separation

When you separate from your partner, try not to feel pressured into a making a final decision that’s not right for you. You will need to work out things like:

  • where you’re going to live
  • arrangements for the care of the children
  • how to divide up any money or belongings you share
  • how you will manage to pay the bills once you’re living separately
  • changes to work and childcare arrangements
  • telling family, friends and explaining it to your children.

The law is different in the UK nations. You can find information on separation online from Citizens Advice.

You may need to seek advice from a family law specialist before agreeing about money, property, maintenance payments and arrangements for your children.

For advice on benefit entitlements when your household changes, you can use the Turn 2 Us benefits calculator.

If you’re in the UK as a dependant on your partner’s visa, you’ll also need to check if you can stay. Check if you can stay in the UK on a visa after separation or a divorce.

Communicating with your ex partner

For some parents, having to maintain contact with one another and sort out arrangements for the children can be a huge strain. These are some tips to help you communicate with your ex and protect your children from any fallout:

  • Avoid blaming yourself or partner and agree not to let your own relationship issues get into the discussion.
  • When agreeing contact arrangements with your ex-partner, think about a trial period that can be reconsidered at a later date. Work on a parenting plan together.
  • Create rules ahead of meetings with your ex so you can focus on child-related conversations and avoid talking about relationship problems.
  • Continue at another time if you feel discussions sliding into choppy waters. Don’t argue with your partner about the children in front of them. This will only increase their sense of guilt.
  • You may want to consider family mediation services to help you settle disputes with your partner. Visit the College of Mediators website.

Children and separation

Helping your child through a period of separation or divorce is challenging as you come to terms with your own feelings. But research shows there are things you can do that can help.

  • Avoid criticising your ex-partner in front of the children. It can be very upsetting for them and leave them feeling forced to take sides.
  • Children often feel a great sense of loss, and letting them grieve is an important part of helping them move on to accept the changes in their family relationships.
  • Your children may also express anger towards you. Try not to take it too personally as it can be a sign they are finding it hard to cope.
  • Keeping children informed about what is happening will help to prevent them blaming themselves and worrying unnecessarily.
  • You can help children feel more secure by helping them to express their feelings, letting them know that you understand how they feel, and making sure they feel they can ask questions if they want to, will help. 
  • Denial is also a common response. A child will naturally have hopes and fantasies about the family, such as wanting you all to be reunited. Talking about these feelings, without raising false hopes, will help your child to move on.
  • See also our tips on children and conflict in our Relationships guide (page 24), which might still be relevant after a separation.