Separation and Divorce
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There are times when relationships just don’t last, even if we try to make them work. Marriages and relationships can end in separation or divorce, and couples sometimes need to go in different directions.
It’s important that your break-up goes as smoothly as possible to minimise the impact this has on you both and your children, if you have them. Even if children aren’t involved, a break-up can impact all areas of your life.
There is a lot of information out there that is available to you and it can be hard not to be overwhelmed by it all. The key things to take from this resource are:
- You are not alone and there are lots of organisations that are there to help you through your entire journey of separating.
- Get as much information as you can but don’t try to solve everything on Day One.
- Start by getting some initial advice from a specialist solicitor, the Citizen’s Advice Bureau or a service organisation that would offer general support. Initial advice from a solicitor is often free (but always check) and will not commit you to anything.
- Be prepared for change.
Everyone’s situation is different and what is right for someone else may not be right for you. Where you live in the United Kingdom may also mean a different policy, or where you are domiciled will determine what law applies. The laws of England and Wales are different to the laws of Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Currently, one spouse has to make accusations about the other’s conduct, such as ‘unreasonable behaviour’ or adultery, or otherwise face years of separation before a divorce can be granted – regardless of whether a couple has made a mutual decision to separate. The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill represents the biggest shake-up of divorce laws in half a century and aims to reduce the impact that allegations of blame can have on a couple and in particular children. More information on this and what it means can be found here.
There are a myriad of things that you may need to consider that are specific to your circumstances. Just some of these are:
- What type of separation is needed: Do you just need breathing space to consider your relationship, or have you already decided on a formal separation or divorce?
- Living Arrangements: Where will you live after you separate, and who will any children live with?
- Emotional: Dealing with feelings – yours and your children’s. How and when to tell your children and other people?
- Financial / Legal: Who gets what – pension, savings, house equity, joint account access, child / spousal maintenance, changing a will, life insurance or death benefits.
Paying bills and rent– can you afford it? Benefits, such as housing benefit, Universal Credit or council tax support. HMRC if you already receive or want to claim Tax Credits. Child Benefit, local authority for council tax discount, and you may need to find a job to help with your finances.
It is important to seek legal and financial advice in matters regarding property, finances and Armed Forces pensions.
- Co-Parenting: Joint custody, access and visitation for parents and other family members such as grandparents.
Taking those first steps to separation or divorce can be scary and difficult. The FAQs at the bottom of this page provide a quick look at some of the questions which you may need answers to and we have provided more detailed information for those needing guidance and support during the transition.
Domestic Abuse and Divorce
If you feel scared, frightened or are not able to make independent decisions, this may be domestic abuse. It can happen to women and men and the law applies equally to both. Please visit our dedicated page for further information. In an emergency call 999.
There is support out there for you – your first priority should be the safety of yourself and any children (including non-biological and stepchildren). In many cases this may mean engaging with the police and getting the protection of the legal system. Seek legal advice; the idea of going to court to get an injunction to stop your abuser contacting you or forcing you to leave the house is a terrifying thought for most people experiencing domestic abuse, but a solicitor will be able to advise you on this, and reassure you that the threats you may have heard from your partner are untrue (such as ‘if you leave, you lose your rights to the house’ or ‘You can go, but you can’t take the kids with you’ or ‘If you make me leave I won’t pay the mortgage’).
Please get in touch with any of the domestic abuse support services that are available. Our relationships page includes a section on domestic abuse that you may find helpful.
If you are fleeing domestic violence you must be given some priority or ‘reasonable preference’ to council / social housing allocation. You can ask any council for homelessness help if you’re at risk in your home or can’t stay there because of domestic abuse. The council must look at what they can do to either keep you safe in your home or find you somewhere safe to live.
If you are living in Service Family Accommodation (SFA) and you and your partner are experiencing difficulties, there is an opportunity for you to have what’s called a ‘cooling-off’ period. This involves the Serving Person moving into Single Living Accommodation (SLA) for a maximum of 93 days, which Amey and the UPO must be informed of. After this period of time, if issues still have not been resolved between you and your partner and you agree to separate, then you are required to find suitable alternative civilian accommodation within a time-frame of 93 days. The Serving Person can apply for Single Living Accommodation during this time.
Further information and full details on entitlement and eligibility for UK SFA and Substitute Service Family Accommodation (SSFA) are available in JSP 464: tri-service accommodation regulations (TSARs) Part 1 and for overseas SFA and SSFA are available in JSP464: tri-service accommodation regulations (TSARs) Part 2.
The Joint Service Housing Advice Office (JSHAO) has produced a library of leaflets for Service personnel and their dependants on civilian housing options.
If you have to find alternative accommodation and cannot afford to buy your own home, you may need to contact your local authority to assist you in finding somewhere to live. Please visit the Government website section on Housing Association homes for further information. In addition your local authority will be able to give you guidance on whether you are eligible for financial help towards your accommodation (such as Housing Benefit or Universal Credit).
For homeowners, who gets the family home depends on your circumstances. There are a number of options available to you. Remember though, if you are joint mortgage holders, you are both still liable for paying it and moving out doesn’t mean you can stop paying it. Some further information on this subject can be found here.
Every year Shelter and Shelter Scotland offers advice, support and legal services to millions of people struggling with bad housing or homelessness. If, through your separation or divorce you are struggling with housing, visit their website to see if they can help you.
Expenses and Allowances
Support for Emotions & Well-being
Coping with a break up can be extremely challenging on an emotional level. Each member of the family may go through a range of emotions and could need different support from a variety of directions. If you think your relationship /marriage can be saved, or are not sure and want to explore this with support, you might consider relationship counselling, your children may also need help with their feelings or you may want to consider mediation. There are multiple organisations available that provide help and guidance in all of these areas.
- Building Stronger Families: The Royal Navy and Royal Marines Charity (RNRMC) and relationship support charity Relate have launched a free relationship counselling portal for Royal Navy and Royal Marines personnel and their partners.Both serving and former Royal Navy and Royal Marines personnel and their partners can sign up to the service for free, where they will then have access to seven different modules. The courses are intended to support relationships, with topics ranging from Military Life, Sexual Communication and Intimacy, to Family Life and Parenting. Sign up here.
- Relate provide a great deal of advice and support for all aspects of a couple’s relationship. It offers Royal Navy and Royal Marines personnel and their families’ FREE access to some counselling services. To find out more please visit Relate’s website. Support for Service children can be found here.
- Mediation: This is not the same as relationship counselling, mediation is normally considered after you’ve agreed to part ways. If you’ve just split-up, are getting a divorce, dissolving a civil partnership or you’ve been separated for a while, you might need to sort out arrangements with your ex or other family members.
It is now a requirement under the Children and Families Act 2014, for a person to attend an initial Family Meditation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM) before making certain kinds of applications to obtain a court order.
The first meeting with a mediator gives you the chance to find out how mediation works. Mediators are trained to work out with you whether mediation is right for you and your family. They will also discuss how many sessions you may need, how much they would cost and explain whether you might get legal aid to pay for mediation. The mediator can also give you information about other services that provide help and support and the other options you might have to resolve things.
Find a mediator local to you here.
- Citizens Advice can give you the confidence and knowledge needed to find a way forward. They can assist with a wide range of problems or enquiries and their section on Family can help you find out what your rights are if your relationship has broken down. For more information please visit Citizens Advice.
*Please ensure that you choose the correct part of the UK that you are living in (England, Scotland, Northern Ireland or Wales) as the guidance may change.
- Home-Start helps Armed Forces families with young children, particularly at times of heightened anxieties, in the UK and Cyprus. There are hundreds of reasons why families find life difficult. To find out more, click here.
- Family Lives is a charity with over three decades of experience helping parents to deal with the changes that are a constant part of family life. Their website covers all aspects of this and has a page dedicated to divorce and separation, and they offer core family support. They are one of the first organisations to be awarded a new HSSF quality mark for their work in supporting separated families. Follow this link for more information.
- Young Minds is the UK’s leading charity fighting for children and young people’s mental health. If you have children and they are struggling with your separation or divorce and need support, please visit Young Minds. They also have help and advice for you as parents.
- SSAFA offer assistance with a variety of problems. SSAFA helps the Armed Forces community in a number of ways, though their focus is on providing direct support to individuals in need of physical or emotional care. Addiction, relationship breakdown, debt, homelessness, post-traumatic stress, depression and disability are all issues that can affect our members of our Armed Forces community.
- Child Access and Visitation arrangements can be made between you and your partner without the need for court hearings or involving professionals if you can agree on where your children will live, how much time is spent with each parent and how your children will be financially supported. More guidance on this subject can be found here. However what you can do is different if you live in Scotland or Northern Ireland.
You can use a solicitor if you want your arrangement to be legally binding, you can make a parenting plan or use a mediator. The Scottish Government have launched a really useful booklet full of information and strategies for families where the parents are divorced, separated, living apart etc. The booklet can also be useful if there are children living with different parents and visiting. For example, in the case of children from a previous relationship, step-children etc. You can find the booklet here. And in addition to Citizens Advice or Advice Now, you can get some really good help from the Cafcass Co-Parent Hub.
- Our Family Wizard is an app specifically designed to reduce the stress of managing family plans across separate households. It is a chargeable service, but does offer military discounts on subscriptions. Click here for more information.
Legal help and advice
There are a number of situations as we go through life that require legal assistance. Separating or divorcing from a spouse or partner is one of those situations and you should really look for a specialist family solicitor. A lot offer an initial meeting or chat free of charge (please check) which can last anywhere from 15 to 60 minutes, and will not commit you to anything.
- Legal Aid can help meet the cost of legal advice, family mediation, or representation at court or tribunals. For more information or to see if you are eligible please visit the Legal Aid website. Please note that Legal Aid rules are different in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
If you or your children are victims of domestic abuse or violence and you cannot afford to pay legal costs, then you may be able to get free and confidential civil legal advice as a part of legal aid if you are in England or Wales.
- Citizens Advice can give you the confidence and knowledge needed to find a way forward. They can assist with a wide range of problems or enquiries and their website has a section on free or affordable legal help. For more information please visit the Citizens Advice website.
* Please ensure that you choose the section of the UK that you are living in (England, Scotland, Northern Ireland or Wales) as the guidance may change.
- Resolution is an organisation that can also assist you in navigating your way to the right legal advice for your situation. They have helpful sections and lots of guides on separating for married couples, cohabitees and issues around children on their website, which you can visit by following this link.
- The Law Society or The Law Society of Scotland can help you to find a solicitor local to you. In addition, the website has a section on common legal issues.
- Queen Mary Legal Advice Centre provides free legal advice to members of the public across a range of different legal areas. They help those who are unable to access legal advice as part of their effort to bridge the gap in access to justice. Advice is delivered by QMLAC Student Advisers under the supervision of qualified lawyers. A member of QMLAC will contact you within three working days to get a few more case details, to establish whether your legal issue is something student advisers are able to assist with. You will also be asked for your household income to determine whether you meet the income threshold to receive free legal advice.If they are able to help, a virtual appointment will be offered to the you. Following that appointment, you will receive your advice letter 14 days later. Please note the clinics run on an academic term time basis only. Appointments will start from October to April only. Follow this link to find out more.
- Advice Now is an independent, not-for-profit website, run by the charity Law for Life: the Foundation for Public Legal Education.
It provides accurate, practical information on rights and the law in England and Wales and gives you access to clear and effective guidance to help deal with law-related issues. To find out more click here.
- The Child Law Advice Service provides legal advice and information on family, child and education law affecting children and families in England. This service is provided via this link and is packed with how to guides and information pages. In addition they have a website called Law Stuff dedicated to providing advice and assistance to young people.
- Armed Forces Legal Action was established in 2013 and is a nationwide network of legal service providers committed to providing discounted legal services to Armed Forces personnel and their families. More information can be accessed on the website.
Money has a big role in our everyday lives and so getting the right advice at the right time can make a big difference. From having money to pay the rent or mortgage, to shopping and bills or supporting your children, finances play a part.
- MoneyForce Whilst the MoneyForce website is now closed, financial support and advice is still available from The Royal British Legion. The Legion’s expert team of Financial Advisors are on hand to offer you guidance and support. Whether its worries about debts and paying bills or advice on benefits, pensions or planning for your future, they’re here to help. If you’re worried about your finances you can find out how the Royal British Legion can help by visiting their website or call them on 0808 802 8080 8am-8pm 7 days a week.
The MoneyForce popular tools and calculators are still available from Money Advice Service and this website also provides some really helpful information under the heading Family and Care and in the Family Matters section, including the cost of divorce or dissolution if this is something you need to consider before proceeding check here.
- National Debtline can help if you have been left with debt after a separation and need advice on how to deal with it. They have a range of advice and tools to help you, just follow this link.
- Pensions and Divorce can be complex and difficult to navigate, throw in an Armed Forces Pension and it could become even more so. To hopefully dispel some myths and explain the basics on Pensions Sharing and Divorce follow this link to the Forces Pension Society. The advice is to seek professional assistance on this subject.
- Forces Families Jobs is the go-to place for training and employment for family members of currently serving UK military personnel. If, after you are separated or divorced, you need or want to get back in to work, Forces Families Jobs can support any separated partner and any divorced partner for a year, post-divorce.
- Universal Credit is a payment to help with your living costs. It’s paid monthly – or twice monthly for some people in Scotland. You may be able to get it if you’re on a low income, out of work or cannot work. For details of eligibility and how to claim in England or if you live in Northern Ireland.
- Child Maintenance Both parents are expected to contribute financially to bringing up their children until they are at least 16 years old. There are different ways that you can arrange child maintenance and there are pros and cons to each way. The Money Advice Service has some guidance to help find a way that work for you. If you are unable to reach a private agreement on how your child’s / children’s living costs will be paid, then CMS (Child Maintenance Service, formerly Child Support Agency) will be able to assist you.
You can use this calculator to work out an amount of child maintenance for your children. It will not send your details to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). Child maintenance payments do not affect any claim you make for benefits or Tax Credits.
The MOD has a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Child Maintenance Group (which is responsible for Child Maintenance in the UK). The MOU aims to avoid disadvantaging Service Personnel from the start or variation of payments while they are deployed on operations. If you have any queries concerning payments you should contact the DWP office quoted in your correspondence from them.
The CMS is committed to ensuring members of the Armed Forces, both paying and receiving parents, are able to access the service at a convenient time and there is specific guidance for CMS caseworkers on how to manage cases involving Armed Forces personnel. The CMS also have a focal point within the organisation who are a point of contact for caseworkers providing specialist advice, guidance and support in the administration of Armed Forces cases.
There are some instances where the CMS will need to send a physical letter in addition to the self-service portal. In these cases, the letter would be sent to the address provided by the parent. If the address provided is a UK-based Forces address, and they have a common surname they should provide the CMS with their Service number to include in the address field so it can be directed to them swiftly.
Parents in the Armed Forces who are on deployment and do not have access to the self-service portal to review their account while they are on duty should consider notifying the CMS, either by phone or in advance through the self-service portal, so they know how to contact the parent concerned. In some cases, parents are able to nominate a representative to act on their behalf which can be a friend or relative, and they can set this up by contacting the CMS.
Non-UK / Commonwealth
The NFF are now regulated by the OISC (Office of the Immigration Service Commissioner) to give qualified and timely immigration advice to Royal Navy and Royal Marines personnel and their family members, and other supporting agencies.
Additional information on other Non-UK and Commonwealth subjects can be found on our website.
If you have decided to separate from your spouse or partner or they have told you that the marriage is over, then what probably won’t be a big priority for you is talking to a Home Office official about your family circumstances. However, it is really important that you contact the Home Office to let them know about your separation. Click here for more information.
Although your spouse can’t cancel your visa the Home Office does have the power to do so. That’s why, if you are in the UK on a Spouse Visa and you are thinking about separating or getting divorced, it is very important to take Immigration and Family Law advice before you take any steps. A Family and Immigration solicitor won’t pressure you to change your mind but they will want to advise you on the best way to go about a separation or divorce and stay in the UK, assuming that you want to be able to stay in the UK after your separation.
If you are from abroad and are here as a dependent of your ex-partner, you can stay in the UK if your relationship has broken down due to domestic violence. Please follow this link for further guidance.
To find out how to stay in the UK even if your visa is based on your relationship with your ex-partner, this page on the Citizens Advice website may offer some guidance.
FAQ and further help
You can find further support and help on our website including our transition guide for families which contains advice and information on all aspects of transition. Even if you are not the Service Person, you could still find this helpful as you may want to distance yourself from all that is familiar to Service life.
RN FPS (Royal Navy Family and People Support) formerly Royal Navy Welfare, may be able to help you on matters such as health and wellbeing or compassionate support.
Finally, when a relationship is over it can be hard to get used to solo life. But there is life after divorce and many people go on to be happy and fulfilled.
Will I need to leave the SFA I live in?
Yes, the likelihood is where you live will change. For enquiries about loss of entitlement to SFA resulting from retirement, redundancy, discharge or estrangement, please contact the Loss of Entitlement Team by telephoning 01904 418000 or 94510 8000. Alternatively, you can contact the team by email: firstname.lastname@example.org . If you believe that you will lose entitlement to SFA in the future, or find yourself in this situation, advice is available from a variety of sources. As well as the Joint Service Housing Advice Office (JSHAO), other sources of information and advice are Service charities, families’ federations, housing advice centres, and local authorities.
Where will I live now?
There are different options available, such as private rent, Housing Association housing and social housing. Social housing is not easily accessible in many areas, and it is important to consider all possible options and locations. Local authorities do have a duty of care to house homeless people, but it may be in a B&B or hostel rather than a permanent house. If you are the Service Person you may still be entitled to SFA / SLA.
How can I apply for social housing?
You need to register with the local authority as homeless and provide evidence to support this, such as your Notice to Vacate. Speak to a Housing Officer within the local authority you want to move to and ask them to outline other housing options.
Partners and Spouses separating from the Serving Person may still need to have a local connection when applying for social housing, however The Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government released new guidance under section 169 of the Housing Act 1996 (‘the 1996 Act’) on 27 June 2020 which states “The Secretary of State strongly encourages local authorities to exempt from any local connection requirements divorced or separated spouses or civil partners of Service personnel who need to move out of accommodation provided by the Ministry of Defence” The full details of this guidance can be read here.
Does the Serving Person have to change their PstatCat?
The Service person is required to inform their CO (or authorised representative) of any change to their personal circumstances that could affect their PstatCat.
Can I get Child and Spousal Maintenance?
You can make arrangements privately with your ex to pay towards the costs of bringing up any children you have, or have the Child Maintenance Service make this arrangement if you cannot come to a family agreement. More details can be found on our main Separation & Divorce page. Spousal maintenance is a more complex subject and there are several factors that need to be considered; we advise that you seek legal advice. It’s important to understand that spousal maintenance is just that – financial support from one spouse to another, paid on the breakdown of a marriage. It does not apply to unmarried couples and is different to child maintenance.
Will I still pay Child Maintenance if overseas?
As a parent you would still be required to pay maintenance whilst deployed. If you have made a private family arrangement to pay child maintenance then that is for you to discuss with the other parent. If you have an arrangement through CMS (Child Maintenance Service) the liability is a percentage (between 12% and 19% depending on the number of children) of a paying parent’s gross income. If the paying parent’s liability is based on historic income, the CMS is provided with income information directly from HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) for the last complete tax year. The liability is then adjusted to take into account other income or shared care arrangements. This figure is reviewed annually with the latest data from HMRC. The liability would only change during the year if a parent’s income increased or decreased by more than 25% and this change would last more than 12 weeks, or there were some other changes that affect the amount that should be paid.
If you have a case with CMS it is vital that you inform them if you are to be deployed overseas.
What happens to our assets and belongings?
Try to work things out between you regarding who gets what, but be prepared to compromise. Mediation may be an option for you to consider to help guide you to an agreement or getting initial advice from a specialist family law solicitor. Things may also be different if you’re co-habiting, than if you are married or in a civil partnership. Money Advice Service has some really helpful advice for these different situations.
Does my spouse get any of my AF pension?
A pension is not treated the same as a capital asset because there is no ‘pot’ of money to divide. However, it is an asset which is can be taken into consideration by the courts when parties divorce and the courts can make orders against the pension in favour of the other spouse. There are options available to couples when they divorce but each one depends upon the circumstances of each individual case and will depend on what other assets there are and what everything is worth. As it can be a complex subject, it is advised that you seek professional advice. Forces Pension Society or White Ensign Association may be able to assist you.