As with any relationships, the refugees you support may experience a separation or divorce. Here we provide you with approaches to this challenge.
Like with any relationship, problems can arise for everyone no matter where or how you have been living. This is including for those who have been forced to flee their homes and are displaced. We have heard of situations where, after arrival to the UK, newly resettled refugees have experienced a marriage breakdown. There could be several deeply personal reasons for this, and these may rise to the surface or manifest once life has settled a little more.
This is going to be a very stressful and difficult time for all the family members involved. If you as a Community Sponsorship group are presented with this situation, it can also be a challenging situation for you, as you have prepared to support a family in their entirety.
Of course, every situation will be unique. However, this guide aims to give you some tips on how to manage this situation. Reset are always able to provide advice and support to you. You should also ensure you have spoken to your Lead Sponsor for their advice and guidance.
What you should remember
- Should a family member you are supporting tell you that they would like to separate from or divorce their partner, keep in mind that it is not your role as a group member to give your opinion on the situation. Be impartial.
- Remain calm and remember that the separation or divorce is not a reflection of the support you have been providing to the family.
- Focus on explaining what you can do to assist, such as signposting the couple to advice services, mediation, legal assistance, mental health services and counselling.
- Do not take ‘sides’ in the separation. You can assist in connecting both parties with those who can help but avoid being drawn into the situation.
- Your role is not to judge in this situation; all relationships are deeply personal and complex.
- Keep in mind that a divorce or separation can be a very traumatic event for a family, especially one which has already experienced the trauma of leaving their home and loved ones behind.
- If there are children involved, be mindful of how a separation or divorce may impact them in areas of their lives, such as their mental health or academic performance. Support the family to decide whether they wish to inform schools of the change in circumstance.
What you must do
- In the event of a separation or divorce, you must notify the Home Office Contact Officer as soon as possible. The Home Office will contact the Local Authority to discuss a support package for the family member leaving the family home.
- Explain to the separated or divorced family members that they must notify UK Visas & Immigration (UKVI) regarding any change in the information they provided in their Biometric Residence Permit (BRP) applications. This can be done by completing a migrant change of circumstances form.
- You should ascertain whether the decision to separate or divorce is due to anything that may be a safeguarding concern; physical, sexual, verbal, financial or emotional abuse, or if any children are at risk. Should this be the case, you must alert your Safeguarding Lead immediately.
- Give the family members time and space to make their own decisions about their relationship without judging or influencing their choices.
What you can do
- Explain that a divorce or separation does not have an impact on the refugee status of any family member.
- Explain that both parties will be provided with appropriate accommodation to live apart, neither will become homeless. However, it’s possible the person who will be leaving the property may need to make a homelessness application with the Council, and this could mean living in temporary accommodation until long-term accommodation is found.
- Explain that as a Community Sponsorship group, you have built your support around a family unit in a specific size house and a separation may have an impact on the support offered, which will be discussed as the situation develops.
- Reassure them that although the situation will be different, neither of them will be left without support.
- Assist them in understanding any changes to their benefits, should the number of people in the household reduce.
- Help in finding the legal assistance that the family member requires and ensure they understand any costs involved.
- Decide whether you will supply interpreters or any further support. However, do not involve yourselves in meetings with advisors.
As your support and sponsor agreement is built around a single family unit in one property, this is what you are responsible to provide as agreed between you and the Home Office.
A separation or divorce may mean that the family members no longer wish to live together. Whilst there is much your group can do to support an individual to find alternative accommodation, you are not responsible for providing or paying for this. This responsibility will fall to the Local Authority in which the family resides, who will look for appropriate accommodation for the family member who leaves the family home. As mentioned, the family member may need to apply for homelessness, if they have not been able to find suitable accommodation for themselves.
It is not your responsibility to try to keep the family together but instead, focus on providing links to organisations and advisers who are qualified to help.
Advice for groups in Scotland
Family law, including divorce and separation, are complex areas of law for which specialist legal advice should be sought. In Scotland, these laws are different from the rest of the UK. If a family you support has questions in relation to this, the best thing to do is to help them find appropriate legal advice from a qualified professional.
- Access information provided by the Scottish Government and Citizens Advice Scotland
- There are also organisations such as Relationships Scotland, which provide relationship counselling.
- For specialist legal advice, you can find solicitors offering advice in the areas your families are living at the Law Society Scotland, as well as the Scottish Legal Aid Board.
When divorce or separation happens within a family unit, and someone is homeless as a result, they will then be able to seek homelessness assistance from their local authority.
Information on rights and entitlements in homelessness when separating from a partner can be found here.
Other organisations provide advice, mediation and guidance for those who have decided to divorce or separate: