What happens if we have children but are not married?

A couple who live together without being married are cohabiting.

There are legal provisions in place for the children of cohabiting couples, but without the legal framework of marriage there are no protections for the couple themselves.

This means that someone who is cohabiting could be left in financial difficulties if a relationship breaks down.

Cohabiting parents

It is estimated that the number of cohabiting parents now equals the number of married parents, with the amount having increased by a third over the past decade.

Despite this increase, there are no laws in place to give rights to those whose cohabitation has come to an end, even if they have been in a long relationship and raised children together.

Children of cohabiting couples

The law is concerned to make adequate provision for any children of a cohabiting couple. This means that the main carer may be given the right to live in the former family home until the youngest child reaches the age of 18, even if they don’t own the property.

Once the child is 18, the property will revert to the person who owns it, meaning that the parent living there could potentially become homeless if they aren’t a registered owner.

Maintenance is usually payable to the main carer, but again this is to provide for the children of the relationship and not intended for the partner.

Mothers automatically have parental responsibility for their children, but fathers may not. If a father is not named on the birth certificate, then they don’t have parental responsibility.

Parental responsibilitly gives a parent the right to a say in respect of healthcare, welfare and education of a child. It is open to unmarried fathers to apply to reregister a birth naming them as father, or alternatively to ask the court to make an order granting them parental responsibility.

If one of a cohabiting couple dies, then the survivor won’t automatically inherit their estate. Similarly, if a mother dies leaving a father who does not have parental responsibility, he will not automatically be entitled to care for his child, which can make things difficult.

How to protect your rights as a cohabitee

It is possible to enter into a cohabitation agreement to safeguard your legal rights if you’re not married. This would give details of what you have agreed will happen with regard to your financial affairs both during the relationship and should you ever separate.

If you would like to talk to one of our expert family lawyers, ring us on 0345 2413100 or email us at mail@cplaw.co.uk.

Meet Marianne Tyndall

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