Cohabiting Parents: what are the rights for you and your children?

Cohabiting Parents: what are the rights for you and your children?

It is now common for many couples to live together in long term committed relationships without getting married. 47.6% of children born in the UK in 2016 were born outside marriage or civil partnership (Office for National Statistics statistical bulletin dated 19th July 2017), and hence, it is important to realise that the legal rights afforded to cohabiting partners are very different from those of married couples.

Parental Responsibility is defined in s 3(1) Children Act 1989 as being:

“all the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which by law a parent of a child has in relation to the child and his property”.

The term ‘Parental Responsibility’  lays emphasis on the parent’s duties towards their child rather than the parent’s rights over their child.

My partner and I have a child. Are we both the child’s legal parents? Who has Parental responsibility?

  • Mothers , & Married fathers automatically have Parental Responsibility and will not lose it if divorced.
  • Unmarried fathers  do not automatically have Parental Responsibility. A cohabiting man who fathers a child can only acquire parental responsibility if he is registered as the father on the birth certificate, has entered an agreement with the mother, or following a court order.
  • Step-fathers and Step-mothers do not automatically have Parental Responsibility.
  • Grandparents do not automatically have Parental Responsibility

Because of this, cohabiting couples should consider appointing a guardian for their child should anything happen to the mother (if the father is not named as such on the children’s birth certificates).

I had a child with my boyfriend/girlfriend and we used to live together. We have since broken up – does my ex have to pay child support?

The law treats Parental Responsibility and child maintenance as being completely separate. An unmarried father who does not have Parental Responsibility still has a duty towards his child to provide child support maintenance. An unmarried father without Parental Responsibility will also still have some rights- as an example if the child is in Local Authority care, he has a right to have reasonable contact with his child.

You should be aware that when a father does not have parental responsibility, the mother does not have to consult with him when making decisions for a child or when removing the child from the jurisdiction (taking them outside England and Wales, whether on a temporary or permanent basis).

The legal system is generally flexible when it comes to matters concerning children, and avoids disadvantaging children based on their parents’ relationship status. This is to ensure that all children are financially provided for as much as practically possible.

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