The Law and Living Together as Unmarried Parents

Posted on: 7 mins read
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Lorraine Harvey

Partner, Family Law

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Many unmarried parents who live together in England and Wales are not aware of the legal implications. A common misconception is that unmarried couples who have lived together for long periods of time, or have children together, are considered ‘common-law husband and wife’. This is actually not true.

A lot of unmarried parents live a happy, stable life, just like many married couples. The legal problems arise, however, in the event of separation, as unmarried couples don’t have the same legal protection as married couples.

That’s why it’s important to understand the law around marriage versus living together, in terms of what rights and protections you may have. This is especially relevant with couples who have assets and children, as this requires finances to be split and custody to be arranged if the couple separates or divorces.

In this sense, it’s great to understand the legal differences between being married and living together, especially when it comes to finances, assets and children if the relationship breaks down. While no one wants to think about the possibility of breaking up, separating or divorcing, sometimes, you need to be aware of what could potentially happen in those circumstances.

Once you’re aware of your rights, protections and laws should your relationship end, whether you’re married or not, you’ll be prepared and you’ll have the knowledge you need to deal with things if the relationship does break down, down the line.

Whether you’re married or unmarried, our Family Law Solicitors can work with you to create an agreement between you and your partner that acts in everyone’s interests, adding security and stability in the event of separation.

Our national team of Family Solicitors are experts in helping clients with legal matters such as Parental Responsibility, finances, property rights, and inheritance.

For initial advice call our Family Law Solicitors and we will help you.

a family together outside

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To learn more about how our expert family law solicitors can help you, get in touch today on 0808 239 3465 or

Cohabitation Agreements

Living together is a big step to take in a relationship, and increasingly, it’s something more and more couples are doing before even getting married. This is known as cohabiting.

Something more and more unmarried couples are doing is creating a Cohabitation Agreement. This is also sometimes known as a Living Together Agreement and is legally binding in England and Wales.

For some people, this can be an essential agreement to have, especially if a couple has children and shares finances and assets. By having a Cohabitation Agreement or a Living Together Agreement, unmarried couples are therefore able to protect their assets and finances and figure out custody of their child or children, should they one day separate.

Many people may feel worried or daunted by the idea of putting a Cohabitation Agreement or Living Together Agreement in place. Couples may feel the whole process is complex and difficult, and you might not want to think about breaking up, which is completely understandable. But, if it does unfortunately happen, you’ll feel all the better for having put a legally-binding agreement in place.

A Cohabitation Agreement helps protect things like:

  • The interests of your children, should the relationship end, ensuring they are adequately provided for
  • Managing financial expectations – Formalising what is expected from each of you financially
  • Reducing conflict – If the relationship does end, there’ll be fewer things to argue over
  • Shares in Property – If you jointly own a property, you can divide the equity straight down the middle, or have it in writing exactly how much of the property is your share.

Our Family Law Solicitors can help you draw up a Cohabitation Agreement so that if you separate, the interests of you, your partner and your children will be protected.

a family sat together looking at a laptop

Parental Responsibility for Unmarried Fathers/Same-Sex Partners

It’s unlikely that you have any Parental Responsibility if you are a father or same-sex partner who was never married to the child’s mother and do not appear on the child’s birth certificate.

Parental Responsibility means you have the right to be involved in decisions such as the child’s education and medical care. One way to obtain Parental Responsibility is to re-register your child’s birth in joint names.

So, it’s clear that Parental Responsibility means you play a real role in your child or children’s life and the decisions that affect their experiences. Unfortunately, if you’re an unmarried father or same-sex partner with a child, you won’t legally have Parental Responsibility. This means that if there is some decision that needs to be made in your child or children’s life, legally, you won’t have a say in it.

That’s why it’s a really good idea to figure out if you have Parental Responsibility, and if you don’t, it might be worth looking into how to get it. This will mean you’ll be able to have a proper say in what happens to your child and the decisions that affect their experiences and the course of their life. If you don’t have Parental Responsibility and you split up with your partner, it’s unlikely you’ll have a say in what happens with your child or children.

If you’re unsure if you have Parental Responsibility, speak to one of our Family Solicitors, who will be happy to offer initial advice.

We can explore your options with you, particularly in cases where you and your partner both have Parental Responsibility but are locked in a dispute that needs to be decided by an Order of the Court. This is often the case where parents cannot agree on child arrangements after separation.

same sex parents with their daughter

Child Maintenance if Unmarried Parents Separate

Whether you are married or unmarried, as parents, you share responsibility for providing for your children. Therefore, applications for Child Maintenance are open to both married and unmarried people. This way, Child Maintenance doesn’t discriminate between married and unmarried parents. This is beneficial, because it means that regardless of your marital status, if yourself and your partner split up and you end up caring for your shared child or children, you will still get Child Maintenance.

Child Maintenance is a way of making sure that the household the child or children of a separation or divorce lives in is financially stable. In addition, with Child Maintenance, both parents are made to recognise and contribute to the financial responsibilities of having a child, as this is only fair and logical.

When an unmarried couple with children splits up, they will have to figure out who takes the child and when – but the thing that is concrete and unchanging is that the parent who does not live with the child will pay Child Maintenance. This ensures that the child is still as financially supported as they were when the couple lived together.

Child Maintenance applications are assessed and enforced by The Child Maintenance Service. The first step in getting Child Maintenance is to contact them to arrange Child Maintenance.

If you need help with arranging Child Maintenance, you can get legal help and advice from our Family Law and Divorce Solicitors. We can guide you through the processes, from the information you need to give and forms you need to fill in, to any deadlines you’ll have to stick to when arranging Child Maintenance.

How We Can Help You

With so much to think about as parents, let alone, unmarried parents, legal protection can fall under the radar.

Our specialist Family Solicitors can explain everything from Parental Responsibility to obtaining a Cohabitation Agreement and are always happy to help you understand your rights, and protect the interests of your children.

We understand that if you’re going through a break up or split with your unmarried partner, this can be difficult, especially if you share a child or children with this person. But, it’s important to realise that even though you aren’t married, you still have rights when separating, based on this area of the law, and especially if you’ve put an Agreement in place. We can help take some of the weight off your shoulders.

If you’ve created a Cohabitation Agreement or a Living Together Agreement, we can help you look through the Agreement you’ve made and its terms, to help you understand what your rights are and how you can go forward with splitting finances, assets and figuring out Child Maintenance.

But, if you haven’t created an Agreement, we can still help you work through arranging Child Maintenance. We can look through your case and empower you with the information you need in order to go forward with your case and arrange Child Maintenance, with the right forms and to the right deadlines. This way, we’ll help make sure your case goes as smoothly as possible.

At Simpson Millar, we’re here to help take some of the stress away from dealing with a messy break up if there are children involved. We can aid you in working out your rights and how you can go forward in terms of splitting assets, finances and custody of your child or children, as well as Child Maintenance.


UK Government. (n.d.). Child Maintenance Service. Retrieved from

Citizens Advice. (n.d.). Child maintenance. Retrieved from

Lorraine Harvey

Partner, Family Law

Areas of Expertise:
Family Law

Lorraine is a Partner at Simpson Millar, specialising in Family Law for over 20 years.

She handles middle to high net value cases, including pension claims and complex trust, and also advises on pre-nuptial and post-nuptial agreements.

Lorraine has unrivalled knowledge of public sector pensions, in particular police pensions, having advised police officers on pension claims for two decades.

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