Dividing assets after separation – what are the options?

Whether or not a separation is your idea, you should know your rights and understand what the best options are for the division of property. Ideally, agreement on what will happen to your property, belongings and money will be reached, without the need for costly litigation. Sometimes, however, this is impossible so a judge will need to decide on how to divide the assets. Your rights will depend on whether the separation is a divorce or dissolution of a civil partnership, or simply leaving an unmarried relationship.

Getting good legal advice can remove some of the stress associated with splitting up and can help you to work out what is going to be best for you in the long-term. A solicitor can also help you to negotiate the terms of the agreement and ensure this is finalised in a binding document.

The following items may need to be divided between you and your former partner.

  • The family home and any other properties
  • Pensions and insurance policies
  • Investments and savings
  • Shares and inheritances
  • Vehicles and pets

Resolving matters without Court involvement

Reaching an agreement yourselves about how best to divide your property after separation will be a lot cheaper and quicker than any other option.

There are a number of ways that we can assist you in reaching that agreement:

  • We can advise you on discussions you may be having with the other person, to help you reach a fair agreement
  • We can refer you to Mediation, an independent service, which facilitates discussions with aim of helping you agree issues between you. We can advise you though the process and assist in formalising any agreement you reach at Mediation.
  • We can liaise with the other person or their solicitors and put forward proposals to negotiate terms of settlement
  • We can organise round the table meetings with your former partner and their solicitor, to discuss matters face to face

Court and litigation

If you and your ex-partner cannot agree on how best to divide the assets of the relationship, you can ask a court to make a financial order. Depending on the overall value of the assets, this may not be the best option as it will be a lengthy and more expensive process to determine the split. Court proceedings are appropriate where there is significant difference in each party’s position on how the assets should be divided or where one person is simply not engaging in the negotiations.

Applying for a financial order will usually involve between one and three court hearings before a judge. The first hearing is to discuss your application in front of the judge and consider what other information or reports are needed. This is followed by a financial dispute resolution hearing, the aim of which is to obtain an opinion from a judge on their view of the case to see if this assists in reaching an agreement. If it is still not possible to reach an agreement, the matter would be listed for a Final Hearing for the judge to make an order as to how the assets should be divided.

In the case of a divorcing couple, there is no legal formula or calculation for dividing up property, each case is different, and it will very much depend on your individual circumstances and requirements. It usually does not matter if property, such as the matrimonial home, is owned in the other parties name, as the court can make orders redistributing the assets. The starting position will be a 50:50 split of any assets that have accrued during the relationship, but it is possible that one party will end up with a greater share for a variety of reasons. The judge will have a wide discretion to do what they think is fair and reasonable, taking into account a range of factors such as how long the relationship lasted, how old the parties are, whether or not there are dependent children, and the different incomes and earning capacities of the parties.

Unmarried couples

If you have been living together in an unmarried relationship, you will have fewer rights than a couple who divorce or dissolve a civil partnership and the judge will have less discretion, being bound by more prescriptive rules on how assets should be shared.

Many unmarried couples who have been together for many years assume they have the same rights as married couples, or those who have registered a civil partnership. This is simply not true; no matter how long you have cohabited, the court cannot redistribute the assets between you. If property is owned in the other person’s name you may be able to claim a share, but only if you can establish this under strict property and trusts laws, and it will generally depend on the intentions of, and agreement, between the two of you during the relationship and will usually require some financial contribution.

If you have a child with your ex-partner, this might give you some further claims, for example to remain in the family home, but your legal rights are limited to ensuring the wellbeing of the child, rather than a share of your partner’s assets in your own right.

Due to the limited protection afforded to cohabiting couples on the breakdown of their relationship, if you are in this situation, it is a good idea to have a cohabitation contract drawn up by a lawyer which sets out how finances and property are to be dealt with if you separate.


The breakup of a relationship can be stressful, particularly if there are children involved. The available assets are now required to meet the needs of two households, whereas previously there was only one.  Your lawyer will be able to explain your options for dividing assets and can help make the legal process less painful.

If you or someone you know wants more information or needs help or advice, please contact us on 01785 336617 or email [email protected].