How do the rights of married and unmarried parents differ?

Married and unmarried parents have the same rights in regards to their children, however how they acquire parental responsibility differs.

The birth mother automatically acquires parent responsibility, however in regards to a father, this will differ if they are married/unmarried.  

How can an unmarried father obtain parental responsibility for their children?

If the child was born on or after 1 December 2003, then the father being named on the birth certificate will give rise to parental responsibility. Alternatively, Parental Responsibility Agreements or Child Arrangement Orders will also give rise to parental responsibility.

What issues can arise if unmarried parents don’t have the correct legal documents in place?

The most noteworthy document is the birth certificate given the reasons above.

Common-law marriage does not exist. How can a cohabitation agreement and an updated will help to protect unmarried couples?

Cohabitation agreements can be a helpful way to record a couple’s intention about the legal and beneficial ownership of property as well as agreeing what will happen when the cohabitation ends. By making sure your will is updated ensures that in the event of your death, your estate will be distributed in accordance with your intentions.

What key considerations should unmarried couples make when making a cohabitation agreement or updating their will?

It is important to address all of the accumulated assets which would require distribution on the breakdown of a relationship, including things such as cars, furniture and art. It is also important to consider the ownership of future assets and if a property is being purchased or being transferred into joint names, to consider how the property is to be held; it is also important to consider whether a Declaration of Trust is required. Additionally, if an unmarried couple have children, they may wish to think about recording an agreement over maintenance/school fees (as applicable).

It is also important to bear in mind that there is uncertainty about whether the terms of a cohabitation agreement are enforceable. The enforceability is currently governed by the rules of contract; thus, it is important to ensure the ordinary contractual principles apply.

When updating your will it is important to ensure that the same mirrors the cohabitation agreement to prevent any future disputes (or at the very least, the position on death is not any less generous than the cohabitation agreement).

If you need any advice on this subject, please speak to our Family team who are on hand to help you. Call on 01702 662963 / 020 35537115 01277 889193  01268 855679 or get in touch via the contact form below.