If you aren't married or in a civil partnership, then you have no legal ties holding you together. This applies if you are unmarried but co-habiting or in a girlfriend/boyfriend or same sex partnership. You can simply walk away from the relationship without legal recourse.

A common misunderstanding is the belief in common law marriage - no such thing exists in the UK. In simple terms if you aren't married you can not become legally divorced and a court can not issue an order in relation to property or other assets. There are plans currently underway within government to extend the same legal rights to those dissolving a civil partnership as those going through divorce.

Some married couples choose to formally separate rather than divorce straight away. All you need to do to be legally separated is to live apart. You don't need a formal legal document to separate but you may want to record any agreement that you reach about children, money and property in a formal document. This is an enforceable document if one party does not keep to what they promised. The document is called a 'Deed of Separation' and you will need legal advice to complete it. A family law solicitor can prepare this document for you or you can buy it online here.

A Deed of Separation can cover all the financial arrangements, agreements and plans that you may wish to make should you decide to divorce in the future. If you have a Deed of Separation, child maintenance can be part of that agreement. If you then later get divorced the same agreement can be changed to a Consent Order.

A final but less common alternative to divorce is Judicial Separation. You can apply to a court for a decree of Judicial Separation. It does not terminate the marriage and is often used when one party has a religious or moral objection to divorce. It is different from separation in that grounds for the Judicial Separation must be proven. Judicial Separation means the court can make orders in relation to property and money.
For more detailed advice on the legal situation in regard to separation then visit Community Legal Advice.