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Practical Guide - Things to consider when you separate

Your home – rented accommodation

The first issue to consider is where you will live and how will you afford to pay for your home. If you are renting, then contact your landlord, explain to them your personal circumstances and find out if you can transfer the tenancy agreement into your sole name. If the tenancy agreement is already in your sole name then you do not have an issue. If the tenancy agreement is in your partners name and you intend to continue living in the property, then you may need to enter into a new tenancy agreement. Before you enter into a new agreement, consider whether you can afford to maintain the monthly rent. If you cannot afford the rent, then you should not enter into a new agreement with the landlord. The shorthold tenancy agreement is for at least 6 months and therefore, if you find after a few months that the rent is too expensive for you to maintain, you would be liable for the remainder of the term.

Mortgage

If you have a mortgage on your home, then you need to decide how the monthly payments to the mortgagee are going to be maintained. Depending on your financial circumstances, if you are living in the property and you are able to afford the payments, then you would be expected to maintain the mortgage until a decision is made about what will happen with the home. If you do not have enough income to support the mortgage, then you and your separating partner need to consider how you are going to support the mortgage in the meantime.

It may be that you can afford to pool your incomes and provide a home for you both while you make a decision about the long term.

However, if you are married and your spouse is unwilling to support the house even though they have the means to do so, then we can ask the court to make an interim maintenance order known as a maintenance pending suit order, ordering them to pay you an income to help you support the mortgage until a settlement is reached.

If you are not married then this can cause problems, if the house is in joint names and the other person is unable or unwilling to help you support the mortgage, then the mortgage could fall into arrears. You should seek expert assistance concerning debts.

Every mortgage provider is different, and has different policies of how they deal with missed or reduced mortgage payments. If you think that you will be unable to pay your mortgage then you should contact your mortgage lender sooner rather than later, making an early approach could mean that you can come to some payment arrangement with them, for instance only paying the mortgage interest on the mortgage or taking a payment holiday until the house is sold.

Council Tax

All local councils offer a sole occupancy council tax reduction on your council tax, usually of 25%. Contact your local council as soon as possible to ensure you get your council tax reduction as early as possible. We have given you the local links below depending on your council:

Sheffield:

https://www.sheffield.gov.uk/council-tax/reducing-your-bill/single-person-discount.html

Barnsley:

http://www.barnsley.gov.uk/services/advice-benefits-and-council-tax/council-tax/council-tax-discounts/ 

Rotherham:

http://www.rotherham.gov.uk/info/200028/council_tax/52/apply_for_a_council_tax_discount

Wakefield:

http://www.wakefield.gov.uk/residents/benefits-and-council-tax/council-tax/ways-to-reduce-the-amount-of-council-tax-you-pay/council-tax-reductions-and-discounts

Doncaster:

http://www.doncaster.gov.uk/services/council-tax-benefits/council-tax-discounts-and-exemptions

Chesterfield:

https://www.chesterfield.gov.uk/council-tax/discounts-and-exemptions.aspx

Tax Credits

You may be entitled to Tax Credits when you separate, even if you were not entitled when living as a couple. If you were entitled to Tax Credits, you will need to be reassessed as a single person, this could increase the amount of Tax Credits you receive. Even if you are still living under the same roof with your partner but are separated, depending on your financial support being provided you could receive Tax Credits in your own right. To obtain more information on your entitlement contact https://www.gov.uk/tax-credits-calculator or call them on 0345 300 3900.

Child Benefit

You may be entitled to Child Benefit, if you are already in receipt of child benefit into your bank account then you do not need to contact the Benefits Agency. However, if you are not in receipt of the child benefit but you are the primary carer for a child, and the other parent is making a claim, then you need to contact the Department of Work and Pensions.

If at present you are not entitled to child benefit because your joint income was too high, then you may now be entitled to make a claim. To find out your entitlement contact https://www.gov.uk/child-benefit/what-youll-get and obtain a claim form for more information about your entitlement.

Household Bills

Whether you are staying in the home or moving out, it would be a good idea to obtain from your providers including such as your utilities, TV licence, SKY and telephone and change the bills either into your sole name or the other party’s name. If the accounts are in arrears then you cannot change the account into your sole name. Ask to open a fresh account in your sole name. The debt will remain in joint names until the arrears are settled. The providers are used to parties separating and they should be able to advise you what your best course of action is with them.

Bank Accounts

Depending on how you and your partner organise your finances, you may have a joint account. If you have joint bank accounts, then you need to be aware that they are jointly and severally liable. What this means depends on whether the account is in credit or debit. If you have money in a joint account, the other person can withdraw any amount of funds from that account and this would not be seen by the bank or the police as a breach of any law. Therefore, if you have an amount of savings in a joint account, then you may want to consider withdrawing your share of the savings from that account in your sole name. In the alternative, you could ask the bank to change the account security so that you both need to jointly sign for any withdrawal or ask for the account to be frozen until you have come to an agreement about what should happen to the money in the account although this can be beneficially restrictive if you do not have any other source of savings.

If you use your joint account as a current account, meaning your direct debits are taken from this account for all of your bills, then you will need to ensure there is sufficient money in the account to cover the outgoings, or you may find that by freezing the account the direct debits are rejected by your bank, which could mean you miss payments towards your mortgage, credit cards and loans which may adversely affect your credit rating. It is therefore important that you organise any rearrangements of your finances carefully, to ensure everything you are paying out regularly is covered by your new bank account.

If you have an account which has run into overdraft and you spend most of your time in your overdraft then this may pose you problems. The bank is usually unwilling to transfer an account into a sole name where there is an overdraft unless the overdraft is repaid. The account can be frozen but this can mean that further bank charges are incurred. If you have a large overdraft limit then you may wish to consider reducing the overdraft facility or asking the bank to remove the overdraft facility all together. However, if you sometimes pop in and out of your overdraft, then it might be sensible to leave a small overdraft on the account to avoid over the limit charges being incurred on the account.

It is always helpful if you can retain a copy of your bank statements from the time you separated which can be given to your solicitor later down the line if needed, to confirm the amount of savings or overdraft at the time you separated.

Change your postal address and redirect your mail

If you are the one who has decided to leave the home, then it is always wise to change your postal address with your bank, credit card, pension and other providers. Your solicitor will need your financial paperwork once you start to formalise your financial separation and this will save you time and expense later on. You can also use the post office’s redirection service, please see https://www.royalmail.com/personal/receiving-mail/redirection to redirect your mail until you have been able to change your postal address with all your providers and institutions.

Change your passwords

During the course of a relationship you do not consider personal password safety. However, it is important, once you separate that you consider changing your online pins and passwords for your banking, email accounts and social media accounts like Facebook and Twitter. It is not unusual for former partners to spy on one another and so if you would like to keep things private it is important that you change your passwords.

Important paperwork or sensitive items

It is very important that you take important personal documents with you when you separate or items which may not be valuable but are personally sentimental. If the document relates to an account or policy in joint names, then take a copy. Take also items which are irreplaceable like family photographs or other items which you consider are your personal items. It can be hard for your solicitor to recover these items later down the road, as sometimes they are lost or disposed of, so it is betters to be prepared at the start and take them with you.

Am I allowed to change the locks?

Depending on whether you are married or not, or whether you own your own home or the home is in joint names will depend on whether you are legally allowed to change the locks at your property.

If you are married, then the last place you lived together as man and wife is known as the “former marital home”. If you or your spouse own the property in your sole name then the other spouse has the right to occupy the property, known as “Home Rights”. You therefore cannot restrict a spouse from living or entering the property until an order of the court has determined who is going to continue to reside at the home.

If you consider your spouse poses a danger to you or your children then you could obtain an order from the court known as an “Occupation Order”. However, unless there is a serious risk of harm to you or the children by your spouse remaining in the property, then the court is unlikely to prohibit the other party from living in the home with you until the financial issues have been resolved. If you change the locks on the property and the other party has a right to live there, the law allows them to break into the property and change the locks back.

If you are unmarried and you own your own home then you are allowed to change the locks on the property without the other person’s consent. Also if you are a sole tenant of a property, you are also allowed to change the locks on the property. However, you should always check what the procedure is with your landlord.

Inform the children’s schools, childminders, doctors and dentist that you are separating

Depending on the arrangements agreed between you and your partner about the arrangements for the children, it is always important to let the children’s school and child carers know what arrangements have been made. If there is a change of address for the child then let them know, along with who will be collecting the children from school or child care and on what days.

It will also help to let the school know the change of address of the parent who is moving out, so they can be contacted by the school concerning the child’s education.

Depending on whether a parent has Parental Responsibility, they can seek information directly from the school about the child’s education, along with information about medical treatment. Therefore it is always important to let your doctor and dentist know about any change of address. By letting the school and your GP know about change in arrangements, this can also help if there are any behavioural issues that arise in the children as a result of your separation and they can help the children overcome any difficulties.

Let your employer know

We know that sometimes it can be hard to let your employer know when there are problems at home. However, if you have a sympathetic employer, let them know what is happening and that you may not be your normal self for a while. It will also make it easier if you have to arrange time off with work to visit your solicitor or court for appointments.

Budget Planner

Trying to provide for two households out of joint income can sometimes be difficult. Use a helpful tool such as a Budget Planner, by preparing a schedule of your joint income, present and future outgoings you will be able to see physically what is affordable and what luxuries may have to be put on hold until you are on a more stable financial footing. If you are unable to meet your outgoings once you have performed this exercise, then there are advice services available through non-profit organisations such as:

http://www.stepchange.org

https://www.nationaldebtline.org

It is important to consider using free advice when obtaining debt solutions, there are thousands of companies who will provide debt consolidation advice. However these companies charge you a fee to make the arrangements with your creditors and should only be used as a last resort.

Give yourself some time

The breakdown of a relationship is one of the hardest emotional stresses you have to recover from. The grief of a relationship breakdown can sometime feel overwhelming. Try not to be hard on yourself, try and speak with close friends or family who will offer you support and good counselling. If you feel your friends or family are too close to the relationship, then there are experts who can help you. Your GP can refer you to counselling or help in other ways, if you want to seek private counselling then the http://www.rscpp.co.uk/?ctr=94 is a good search tool to find a counsellor in your local area. You can also contact Relate, who are a charitable organisation, they offer support not only for couples trying to reconcile, but also individuals who are finding it hard to come to terms with the breakdown of their relationship. http://www.relate.org.uk/

Make a Will

If you have assets which you wish to protect, then it is important to consider making a Will.

Whether you are married or not, if you own a property in your joint names as joint tenants with your former partner. Then you may wish to consider severing the tenancy on the property. What this means is that you can then leave your share of the property to another person under your Will other than your former partner.

If you are married and do not have a Will then your entire estate will pass to your spouse until you obtain the Decree Absolute making your divorce final and binding.

If you are unmarried and have jointly owned property or bank accounts then these will transfer to your former partner without falling into your death estate or intestacy.

The law when you pass away can be complicated and so it is always best to get clear advice from a solicitor about your rights. If you would like to speak with someone in our Wills Department please click the link and someone will contact you with a view to talking through your concerns.

Change your nominated beneficiary on your Pension and Insurance Policies

If you have a pension or life insurance policy it may be that you have either nominated your partner or if you are married that this has been done automatically by your pension or insurance company trustee.

If you no longer want your spouse or partner to benefit from any policy on your death, then you should contact your pension or insurance companies and ask them to change the nominated beneficiary of your policy.

Depending on the terms of your policy, this can be either straightforward or complicated, it depends on the individual providers’ policies.

Click here to download the Practical Guide

Family Team

Lindsey Canning
Director

Alison Gaddes
Associate

Victoria Walker
Family Law Executive

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