For those who have decided to separate or divorce, either because of COVID-19 related pressures or the global pandemic has reinforced the decision to go your separate ways, the next step is for one of you to move out of the family home. You should not permanently leave the family home without first taking legal advice. However, as Manchester and Cheshire divorce solicitors we are receiving an increasing number of enquiries where neither the husband nor wife can easily move out of the family home. Enquirers want to know if they can be legally separated and live in the same house as their estranged spouse.
What is a legal separation?
A legal separation is where a husband and wife obtain a decree of judicial separation from the family court. If you haven’t heard of judicial separation it isn’t surprising as applications for judicial separation are rare because:
- If you obtain a judicial separation you will still need to get divorced at a later stage, for example, if you want to remarry or if you want a clean break financial court order preventing any further financial claims between husband and wife.
- You don’t need a legal separation for official purposes. You can just tell agencies, such as the Inland Revenue or the Local Authority, that you are separated.
Do I need a legal separation?
People often assume that they need a legal separation or judicial separation decree, but they don’t unless they have a religious or cultural objection to a divorce and want to formalise their separation. If you plan to get divorced later, you don’t need a judicial separation first as you can sort out your financial affairs by signing a separation agreement.
Can you separate and live in the same house?
You can separate or even divorce and still live in the same house. Some couples think that if they continue to live together, they can’t get divorced but that isn’t correct. Under current English divorce law, you can get divorced if you have lived ‘separate and apart’ for two years provided your husband or wife consents to the divorce. It is best to take some legal advice about the grounds for divorce proceedings as you may not need to wait two years before being able to start divorce proceedings.
Living separate and apart in the same household, for the purposes of divorce proceedings, means that there must be a degree of separation between husband and wife. For example, you can’t cook for one another or do the other person’s laundry or ironing or shopping.
Separating and your spouse won’t leave the family home.
If you have taken the decision to separate and your husband or wife won’t leave the family home then if things become impossible in the one house there are options, such as:
- An application for an injunction order – an occupation order can give you the right to occupy the family home to the exclusion of your partner until long term ownership or sale of the property is determined by agreement between you or by the court in divorce and financial settlement proceedings.
- An application for spousal maintenance so that you can afford to leave the family home and rent somewhere until long term ownership or sale of the family home is decided. It is best to take specialist legal advice from a divorce solicitor before leaving the family home and moving into rented accommodation.
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Separating and can’t sell the family home.
Most people would agree that it is a tricky housing market so whilst you may have decided to separate or divorce you may not be able to sell the family home. You can be separated or divorced and still be living at the family home though for some it won’t be a very comfortable experience. Even in the best situations where you are splitting up amicably it can still feel as if you are in limbo with your life suspended until you can achieve the sale of the family home.
One thing that can reduce the stress of waiting for the sale of the family home is to have a financial agreement in place so you know who will get what when the property does sell. Although you may have concerns about having to drop the sale price on the family home, a fair financial settlement can still be reached if you don’t agree to accept a fixed amount from the sale proceeds but instead you each agree to receive a percentage of the net proceeds of sale. That way you are both protected, whether house values move up or down.
In divorce proceedings a financial settlement can be reached by agreement or after financial settlement proceedings but in either scenario you should obtain a financial court order that records how all your assets will be divided, including the equity in the family home, savings, and pension provision.
If you are separated but don’t want to start divorce proceedings yet it is still best to record the financial settlement that you have agreed to avoid one of you changing your mind about how much you should get from the sale proceeds when you have found a buyer for the house. A document, called a separation agreement, should be prepared to formalise the agreement reached.
We are Manchester and Cheshire divorce solicitors
The team of specialist divorce solicitors at Evolve Family Law can help you with your separation and divorce proceedings, as well as child custody and contact and your financial settlement. For advice on your family and private client law needs call us or complete our online enquiry form.
The Evolve Family Law offices are in Whitefield, North Manchester and Holmes Chapel, Cheshire but we also offer remote meetings by appointment by video call or telephone.