17/12/18Do Unmarried Couples Have Legal Rights When It Comes to Children?

In part one of this series, I set the record straight on the finances of unmarried couples following a split. In part two, I outline the legal rights of cohabiting couples and children following a relationship breakdown.

If children are affected by a couple’s decision to separate, it’s important that a resolution is sought to determine who the children will live with and when they will have contact with the other parent.

The ideal is for both parents to have regular contact with their children. However, in cases involving unmarried couples, unfortunately the rights of fathers can be more complex.

Parental Responsibility

Parental responsibility is a legal term giving fathers the right to be involved in important decisions affecting a child’s living arrangements, education, religion and medical treatment.

However, parental responsibility is not an automatic right granted to fathers. Being your child’s biological father does not grant you parental rights, especially if you weren’t married to your partner when your child was born. Parental responsibility is then determined by how the birth was registered.

Registration of Your Child’s Birth

In accordance with UK law, all births should be registered within 42 days (6 weeks) of the child being born. Birth certificates must have the details of the biological mother, but they don’t have to feature the details of the biological father.

Basically, if you’re a father not married to the child’s mother, you need to be present at the registration of your child’s birth to guarantee your right to parental responsibility. Only the mother can register a child’s birth if she is unmarried. When an unmarried father does not sign registration documents he is not granted parental responsibility.

To gain parental responsibility a father can:

  • Make a statutory declaration acknowledging that they are the father. However, the mother must give this to the registrar.
  • Submit a parental responsibility agreement or court order at the register office.

Child Living Arrangements

Parents should always try to agree where a child should live, but I appreciate that this is not always possible. If such a decision has to be taken by the court, they will usually consider the child’s wishes, provided they are deemed competent enough to understand the situation.

The age at which a child is considered competent is 12 – 13, but this can vary depending on the circumstances. While the views of a child may be taken into account below the age of 11, it’s unlikely they will carry as much weight.

At the age of 16, a child is legally able to decide where they want to live, unless a residence order or child arrangements order is in effect, which will last until a young person turns 18.

The legal rights of unmarried couples concerning children can be a minefield, which is why I would recommend an initial conversation to discuss the circumstances of your case.

Claire Holland, Holland Family LawClaire Holland is a family and divorce lawyer at Holland Family Law.

She specialises in providing legal advice for all areas of Family Law to include divorce, separation, finances and children.

You can call Claire on 0116 436 2170 or email her at claire@hollandfamilylaw.co.uk.

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