Family & Relationships FAQs
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I want a divorce. Where do I start?
You can't apply for a divorce until you've been married for at least one year. There are no exceptions to this rule. To get divorced the marriage must be recognised as valid by United Kingdom law and you must meet rules about how long you've been living in the country.
The court will grant a divorce if you or your partner can show that the marriage has permanently broken down. Legally, this is called an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage. For a marriage to have irretrievably broken down, one of the following things must be proved:
- your partner has behaved unreasonably
- your partner deserted you at least two years ago
- you've lived apart for at least two years if you both agree to the divorce
- you've lived apart for at least five years if one of you doesn’t agree to the divorce
For further information, please read ending a marriage from Citizens Advice.
Applying for a divorce
The partner who is applying for the divorce is called the petitioner. The other partner is the respondent. If you want to start divorce proceedings you will need to get the forms from your local Family Court. You can also get them from the Ministry of Justice.
The court office will tell you which forms you need, but court staff are not allowed to give legal advice to either partner or help you fill in the forms. If you both agree to the divorce (this is called an undefended divorce), the court will look at the petition and grant an order called a decree nisi. No court hearing is needed.
Six weeks after the court grants the decree nisi, the partner who applied for the divorce can apply to the court for a final order called a decree absolute. This confirms the divorce. After a decree absolute has been made, either partner can marry again or enter into a civil partnership.
If you start divorce proceedings and your partner doesn't agree (this is called a defended divorce), they will have to fill in court papers called an Answer. They have to say why they don't agree that the marriage has broken down. There might be a court hearing for a judge to decide whether the marriage has broken down. These hearings are very rare, as in most cases a defended divorce will be resolved before a court hearing. If the court agrees to grant the divorce they will grant a decree nisi and decree absolute as before.
For more information about getting a divorce, see Divorce – a survival toolkit from Advicenow.
Help with the legal costs of a divorce
You can't get legal aid for divorce unless you're a victim of domestic violence or abuse. Domestic violence or abuse covers psychological, physical, sexual, financial or emotional abuse. Citizens Advice has produced an online guide entitled Help with legal costs - legal aid which provides information about help with legal costs and how to find a solicitor that does legal aid work in domestic violence cases.
My son won't go to school. What can I do about it?
All schools must note in their attendance register whether a pupil of compulsory school age is absent with or without permission. If you find out that your child is truanting, you should try to sort out the problem as soon as possible by talking to the school.
All local education authorities have an Education Welfare Officer (EWO) who can be asked by the school to visit a pupil at home. The EWO will try to find out why the pupil is truanting or refusing to go to school and offer advice.
Where a pupil fails to attend school regularly, the local education authority or the school's governing body can enter into a parenting contract with the parent. This sets out steps that you agree to take to improve your child's attendance. It isn't compulsory to enter into a parenting contract but if you don’t agree or fail to keep to the terms of a contract you have signed, further action might be taken.
If there is no improvement you may be sent a warning that court action will be taken against you. Local Education Authorities, head teachers and the police also have the power to issue a penalty notice if a pupil is truanting. If the penalty notice is not paid, the local education authority can decide to prosecute.
If your child is being bullied and the bullying is so serious that your child is too frightened to go to school or you fear for your child's safety, you may wish to keep your child at home. However, this might be in breach of your duty to provide your child with a suitable education. If your child is too unwell to attend school because of fear or stress you child should go to the doctor's and the doctor should be asked to provide medical evidence for the school. If your child cannot get a medical certificate, you should make sure that in any letters you write to the school you state that, in your opinion, it is not reasonable for your child to attend school because of bullying.
In England guidance about bullying for parents is available from the Department for Education.
ACE Education Advice also provides online advice and information on issues such as bullying, special education needs and attendance.
My partner wants to leave. We're not married. Can I stay in the house?
If you live with your partner, there's a lot to think about when your relationship ends. Understanding more about your housing rights may help you when it comes to making certain decisions.
It's important where possible for you and your partner to talk about your housing situation and come to an agreement when you split up, as this can help avoid lengthy and costly legal proceedings. You can obtain assistance through a mediation or family arbitration service. A video about family mediation is available from the government.
If you and/or your partner own your own home
If the home is owned jointly by you and your partner, you both have rights to the home, and neither of you can make the other person leave. Citizens Advice has produced an online guide about relationship breakdown and housing - rights if you own your home jointly with your partner which provides information on the rights each party has including the right to return to the home if they move out.
If you both own your own home jointly you will need to make sure that the mortgage is paid.
If only one partner is the legal owner, the other partner doesn't have an automatic right to stay in the home and you can only stay in the home for as long as your partner gives their permission. All that your partner must do if they want you to leave is to give you "reasonable notice" (this is not defined). Your partner cannot use any physical force to make you leave but can change the locks after the notice period has expired. For further information, refer to what you can do if your partner owns the home.
However there are limited circumstances when you may be able to stay for example if it can be proved that you have a beneficial interest in the property. Citizens Advice has produced an online guide about beneficial interest if your partner owns the home. This provides information on what constitutes a beneficial interest and how it can arise, for example if you have made a contribution to the cost of the home or if it was both your intention that you both had a share in the property.
If you rent your home
You need to make sure that the rent is paid. It's also important that you are aware of the circumstances when a tenancy can be brought to an end sometimes without the knowledge or agreement of a partner. Citizens Advice has produced an online guide about stopping a tenancy ending if you live with you partner. This provides information on how you can prevent that from happening.
If you and your partner lived in a rented property together but only they appeared as the tenant on the tenancy agreement, then you will not have an automatic right to stay in the home when the relationship comes to an end. If you are in this situation, you can only stay in the home for as long as your partner gives their permission. All that your partner must do if they want you to leave is to give you reasonable notice, this is not however defined. The notice does not have to be in writing. Your partner cannot use any physical force to make you leave but can change the locks once the notice period has expired.
It may be possible to apply to the court for an occupation order to give you a temporary right to stay in the home. Citizens Advice has produced an online guide about occupation orders which provides information about how you can go about applying for such an order, its powers and duration.
Some tenancies have stronger tenancy rights than others. Generally, if the tenancy is a secure flexible assured or protected tenancy it will be worth trying to maintain it. If the tenancy is an assured shorthold tenancy with a private landlord then your best course of action is to speak to your landlord to see if you can sort something out with them. To see what sort of tenancy you have, use a Tenancy Rights Checker. This will also tell you about your rights.
If your partner has asked you to leave and you've nowhere else to go, you may be entitled to help from your local housing authority. The level of help that the authority has to give you will depend on your personal circumstances. It will apply five legal tests to decide how it may have to help or accommodate you. Citizens Advice has produced an online guide about Help for Homeless people which provides information and further guidance.
If you live with your partner and you rent your home jointly you will have certain rights if the relationship breaks down including the right to stay in the home (this applies to both parties). You are both jointly and individually liable for the full amount of the rent regardless of who is living in the property and cannot make the other person leave or change the locks. You may be able to obtain an occupation order as referred to above. Citizens Advice has produced an online guide about the long term options for partners in a rented home which provides information on how you could go about assigning the tenancy or ending the existing tenancy and creating a new tenancy in your sole name.
My husband is making life unbearable. I want to move out. Where can I go?
If you are a victim of an abusive relationship you should get advice on the options available to you which may include reporting any violence to the police, leaving your home either on a temporary or permanent basis, taking legal action or remaining in your present home and getting your husband who is harming to leave.
You may need somewhere safe to stay, either alone or with your children. Citizens Advice has produced an online guide about domestic violence and abuse containing information about the options available to you including getting emergency accommodation from the local authority under homeless persons law and the criteria you need to satisfy.
Once you have found a safe place to stay short-term, you will need to think about what to do in the longer term. Citizens Advice has created an online checklist containing information about what factors you need to take into consideration including children, money, housing, injunctions, permanent separation.
If you haven't found the answer to your question or the information you are looking for, you can:
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