Cohabitation - To Marry or Not to Marry - How does this impact your children? - The Law House Family Law Solicitors, London & Peterborough

Cohabitation – To Marry or Not to Marry – How does this impact your children?

By in All Blogs Category on May 11th, 2015

The Marriage Foundation reports that since 1980, 1.8 million children have been born to unmarried parents and their parents relationships have broken down before they have reached 15. It’s a topical debate of whether marriage saves a relationship which would otherwise cease. I suppose the obvious answer is that due to the formalities surrounding a marriage, a marriage is harder to exist than a cohabiting relationship.

From a legal perspective the rights of cohabiters and married individuals are very different and it is a fact that you have fewer rights if you are living together than if you are married. This is particularly known when it comes to distributing an estate if your loved one passes away without a Will. In a marriage the spouse will inherit as per the Intestacy Rules but if you cohabit then you are not covered under the Intestacy Rules but you may go to court to claim from the estate. Another common example is that when you are living together there is no legal duty to financially support each other and equally there is no such duty when you separate. However in a marriage there is such a duty and if on separation your partner is able to support you but chooses not to do so then you can make an application to the court.

Fortunately matters relating to children are not solely defined by whether the parties are married or cohabiting. Though if you are married to the mother when the child is born then you acquire automatic parental responsibility whereas if you are not married at the time of birth and not named on the birth certificate then you must acquire parental responsibility. Therefore matters are determined by whether you have Parental Responsibility.

What is Parental Responsibility?

This is defined by statute as ‘all rights, duties, powers, responsibilities, authorities which by law a parent of a child has in relation to the child and his property’
Therefore with parental responsibility you are entitled to be involved in decisions relating to the child’s religion, education, name, medical treatment, where they shall live etc. You have a duty to care for and protect the child and to be involved in any decisions relating to their future.

Who has parental responsibility?

  • You have automatic parental responsibility if
  • You are the biological mother of the child
  • You are the biological father of the child and are married to (or later marry) the mother
  • You are the unmarried father and you are registered on the birth certificate. This is only applicable to registrations after 1 December 2013. If you are named on the birth certificate prior to this date you do not have automatic parental responsibility and must acquire it (see below)

How can you acquire parental responsibility?

You can acquire parental responsibility in one of the following ways:

  • Drawing up an agreement with the mother (a parental responsibility agreement) and registering this with the court
  • You can make an application to the court for Parental Responsibility if mother refuses
  • If you are the biological father, you can act with the mother to re-register the birth to include your details on the birth certificate
  • By marrying the mother
  • Being appointed a guardian either by the mother or the court, although parental responsibility will be assumed only on the mother’s death

When do you lose parental responsibility?

Parental responsibility is lost on the following:

  • When a child reaches 18 years of age
  • If a child is adopted
  • If it is brought to an end by the court, either by application of a person having it, or by the child.
  • When a person holding parental responsibility dies.

Therefore provided you have parental responsibility the law will allow you through the same legal process despite whether you are married or cohabiting.

The law relating to Children A.ct applications was changed April 2014 and the old Residence and Contact orders were replaced by ‘Child Arrangement orders’. If you want expert advice when it comes to Children matters, please contact me, Hardeep Dhillon, at The Law House Solicitors on 020 8899 6620. Alternatively, please email me at