In the eyes of the law, you only have a say in important decisions about your children (such as their education and religion) if you have parental responsibility for them.

If the parents of children are married then both parents have parental responsibility for their children.  If the parents are not married, only the mother automatically has parental responsibility and the mother’s partner only has parental responsibility if:

  • he is named as the father on the birth certificate (if the child was born after December 2003);
  • the father enters into a parental responsibility agreement with the mother, is granted a parental responsibility order or child arrangements order by the court, or the parents get married;
  • he is registered as the child’s guardian and all other individuals with parental responsibility have died (including the mother).

If a cohabiting couple separate, it is the children who have rights to spend time with their parents, and not the parents who have rights to see their children.  The following considerations apply:

  • Decisions about who the children should live with and what time they spend with the other parent are made taking into account the children’s best interests.
  • If your children live with your former partner rather than you, you may be required to pay maintenance.
  • Ideally, you will agree the arrangements for the children between you, with the help of a mediator or through solicitors but, if you have been unable to reach agreement, either of you can apply to the court to help resolve things.

Claims can be made for financial provision for the children when an unmarried couple separate.  It is possible for an application to be made to the court for a lump sum or for a property to be transferred into the name of the party who the children live with.  These types of orders are only granted if the court feels it is in the best interests of the children and the order lasts for a limited amount of time, usually until the youngest child is 18.

Resolution has decided to hold a Cohabitation Awareness Week from 27th November to 1st December 2017 to help dispel the myth of the “common law marriage” and alert people to the difference in legal rights between married and unmarried couples, and what steps an unmarried couple can take to record the interest and rights of each partner in the event of separation.

If you are planning to move in with your partner, are currently in a cohabiting relationship or if you were in a cohabitating relationship which has broken down, please contact us for advice about your situation.  All of the family lawyers at Lightfoots LLP are members of Resolution.

Please note that the information in this article is not designed to provide legal or other advice or create a solicitor - client relationship. No liability is accepted for any loss caused in reliance upon its content and you should not take or refrain from taking action based upon the same.