What Is The Legal Position Of An Unmarried Couple With A Child Splitting Up?
Many parents are accustomed to living with their children and enjoying unfettered access to them. Often, one of the most traumatic consequences of a relationship breakdown is the inevitable altering of this living arrangement and the resultant need to adapt to a ‘new norm’ regarding the time you spend with your children. Unmarried couples do not enjoy the same legal rights as their married counterparts or civil partners, regardless of whether or not they have a child together. As a result, unmarried couples with a child who are splitting up are often anxious to understand their rights and responsibilities towards each other and their child when their relationship ends.
If you are part of an unmarried couple with a child and are splitting up, speak to us. Our specialist family law solicitors have vast experience in helping unmarried parents resolve the issues arising from their breakup. Our team will protect your rights to the fullest extent possible whilst ensuring the welfare of your child at all times.
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Unmarried Couple With A Child Splitting Up – Parental Rights
Married couples and civil parents share parental responsibility for their child. If a couple are unmarried, the law gives sole parental responsibility to the mother, unless a specified circumstance exists. The three relevant circumstances are as follows:
- The mother and father jointly registered the birth, and the father is named on the child’s birth certificate.
- The father enters into a parental responsibility agreement with the mother.
- The father obtains a parental responsibility Order from the Court. Except for in exceptional cases, the Court will usually grant parental responsibility to a father requesting such an Order.
Anyone with parental responsibility has certain legal rights and responsibilities in respect of the child. They must, for example, protect and maintain the child and provide them with a home. They are responsible for making important decisions regarding the child, such as those relating to discipline, education and medical treatment. Crucially, however, parental responsibility does not afford you an automatic entitlement to see and spend time with your child.
Ideally, the parents will negotiate access rights between themselves, with the help of impartial third parties if necessary. However, emotions often run high when a relationship breaks down, rendering the parties unable to reach an amicable agreement. In these cases, the parent who does not live with the child must ask the Court to make a ‘Child Arrangements Order’ granting them access to their child.
Child Arrangements Orders specify where a child should live and the people with whom they should have contact. The law’s overarching concern is with the welfare of the child, so the terms of any Child Arrangements Order will depend solely on the facts of the case and what the Judge believes to be in the child’s best interests. As a general rule, the law considers it in a child’s best interests to have an ongoing relationship with both parents, unless there is evidence to the contrary.
Unmarried Couple With A Child Splitting Up – Maintenance Rights
Whilst spouses or civil partners may have ongoing financial obligations towards each other when they split up, the same does not apply to unmarried couples, regardless of the length of time for which they were a couple and whether they have a family together.
However, both parents are responsible for their child’s continuing financial welfare. Generally speaking, the parent who does not have day-to-day care of the child (known as the ‘non-resident parent’) must pay maintenance to the parent who does (known as the ‘resident parent’). The amount of maintenance payable in any given case is decided by the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) based on various matters, including the extent to which care of the child is shared and the non-resident parent’s income, although the CMS disregards any income over £156,000 per annum.
Sometimes, the maintenance calculated by the CMS can leave the resident parent considerably worse off than before the split and struggling to meet their child’s financial needs. Parents are encouraged to work together to reach an agreement regarding a reasonable level of maintenance in their circumstances. In cases where that proves impossible, the resident parent can ask the Court for assistance.
The Court can make several Orders to ensure the child receives the necessary financial support. These include an Order for top-up maintenance where the non-resident earns over £156,000 a year, and an Order that the non-resident parent pays a lump sum to the resident parent to purchase essential, one-off items, such as a car.
How We Can Help If You Are An Unmarried Couple With A Child Splitting Up
Our family law solicitors regularly assist unmarried parents in reaching a resolution of their issues regarding their child when their relationship breaks down. We understand that our clients are often under considerable strain and deliver concise, straightforward advice with empathy and understanding. Your child’s welfare will always be at the forefront of our minds, and we will strive to minimise the negative impact your relationship breakdown might have on them. We encourage open, amicable dialogue and help the parties to identify workable solutions that allow them to look to the future with optimism.
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