Your parental rights as an unmarried couple

 An excerpt from Lawpack's Living Together - An Essential Legal Guide

Any married couple who have a child automatically share equal parental responsibility but the situation can be rather different for a couple who are not. 

Cohabitation is living together as an unmarried couple and cohabitation does not grant you the same legal rights as marriage. Read on to find out more about cohabitation and parental responsibility.

The practical effect of parental responsibility is that where two parents have parental responsibility, one parent cannot make important decisions about the child without the other parent agreeing to it. 

If it isn't possible for the parents to reach agreement, then either parent (although it's usually the parent who feels his or her wishes are being ignored) must apply to the court for the issue to be decided. 

The types of issue that are covered by parental responsibility are important (as opposed to day-to-day) issues regarding a child, such as education, religious instruction and medical care.

As an unmarried couple, if your child was born before 1 December 2003, only the mother has automatic parental responsibility. The natural father of that child can only gain parental responsibility by either:

  • entering into a parental responsibility agreement;
  • obtaining a court order giving him parental responsibility; or
  • marrying the mother.

If the mother with parental responsibility dies, the unmarried surviving father still doesn't gain automatic parental responsibility unless he has a court order, a parental responsibility agreement in his favour, or he was registered as the father of the child born after 1 December 2003.

While an unmarried father of a child born before 1 December 2003 has no automatic parental responsibility for that child under the law, when it comes to providing financial support for the child the law makes no distinction between him and a father with parental responsibility. 

The Child Support Agency, for instance, will assess fathers without parental responsibility for child support in the same way it does for all other fathers and the court will allow an application to be made on behalf of a child for a lump sum to be paid by the father who doesn't have parental responsibility.

Parents, whether or not they are married, share parental responsibility for a child born after 1 December 2003, providing that the father is registered on the birth certificate.

In Scotland, the Family Law (Scotland) Act 2006, which came into force on 4 May 2006, confers parental responsibility and parental rights on unmarried fathers where the father is registered as the child's father. However, it only applies to unmarried fathers who are registered as the father after 4 May 2006.

See our article 'Cohabitation: Things to consider when you move in together' for information on where to obtain a parental responsibility agreement and other necessary documents.

Related Products:


Published on: October 5, 2009

Did you like this article? Share it!

Cohabitation Agreement

Cohabitation agreement download advert
  • Solicitor approved
  • Expert guidance notes
  • Download now
  • Only £10.20
Read More