by Punam Denley, family law solicitor

From Lawpack’s How to Get a Divorce Guide.

When people split up they often worry about money. Often people haven’t got their own income and their spouse is refusing to give them any money.

They are concerned about paying the bills, and how they are going to survive.

So, one of the first things they want to know when they separate is, ‘who pays for what before we’ve sorted out the divorce?’

The general rule in family proceedings is that each person pays their own legal costs, so that is your starting point, but what if you can’t pay?

The first thing to do if you’re in this situation is ring your local office of the Department for Work and Pensions or visit them online at and find out if you’re entitled to any welfare benefits.

You may need to make an emergency court application for your spouse to give you some money to tide you over, which is known as ‘maintenance pending suit’. You can only get this if you are married or in a civil partnership and you must have started divorce or dissolution proceedings.

You need to make a court application for this maintenance, and the court will expect you to have investigated your entitlement to benefits beforehand. There is likely to be a court
hearing and it is quite expensive if you are paying for it yourself.

You should find out whether you can obtain public funding (formerly legal aid) to cover your legal fees.

The court will only deal with your ‘immediate needs’, and if you can’t show that you really require the money, then you will be at risk of having to pay your spouse’s legal costs because
you have made the application unnecessarily.

If you have a good case on maintenance pending suit, this can be resolved very quickly; usually within a matter of weeks. If, however, you have a bit of money to be getting on with, you may have to wait several months before your case can be heard by a judge.

There is a complicated procedure where you can apply for maintenance without having started divorce proceedings. If you want to do this then it is best that you speak to a lawyer, as it is quite an unusual application to make.

If you are not married but are living together, you have no entitlement to maintenance from your partner.

However, if you have children with your partner, you can make an application to the Child Support Agency (now the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission), who may make an assessment.

Unfortunately, this is likely to take several weeks at least and your best option is to see if you can get benefits such as Child Tax Credit or Working Tax Credit.

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Published on: August 1, 2012