When a marriage or partnership breaks down there can be a great deal of confusion over the division of property, or what one's legal rights are concerning tax and state benefits. Many people find themselves unsure of their legal status when they are separated but not yet divorced, but you are eligible to apply for state benefits whether you are still married or not.
Divorce and separation
Divorce is the ultimate solution when a marriage becomes irrevocably broken, but for some people divorce is not an option, perhaps for religious reasons, or because their spouse will not grant them a divorce. Couples who cannot divorce may live entirely separate lives, with independent financial arrangements. In such cases the couple is deemed to be separated. Couples will also typically be separated for a period prior to a divorce being settled by the court.
Couples do not have to obtain legal documents defining theirs as a legal separation. A legal separation qualifies as such when the couple no longer live together. Technically speaking, a couple can also count as separated when they still share the same house, although this is subject to certain conditions regarding the way the household is organised. A separated couple can also obtain a legal document of separation if they wish to, which means they do not have to prove the marriage has irrevocably broken down in court.
If you are separated and living away from your spouse – and are on a significantly reduced income as a result – you may be entitled to state benefits. Your entitlement to benefits will be calculated based on your individual income, and will not take your spouse's income into consideration. If you are separated but living together, you may still be entitled to benefits as long as you show your living arrangements are organised separately.
In the UK state benefits are means-tested. This means anyone is eligible, married or not, providing their income does not exceed a certain level. A legal document proving your separation makes no difference to your tax and benefit status. Child benefit and child tax credit cannot be paid to more than one parent, so if there are children involved, only one of you - the primary caretaker - will be able to claim. However, a separated person will be eligible to apply for any other relevant benefit, such as housing benefit.