– Unmarried Families


Many people believe they have rights in law as a “common law” spouse in a “cohabiting” (i.e. “living together”) relationship. This idea is a myth.  If cohabiting couples part they have no protection under divorce law. They are not entitled to maintenance, or to any share in property or pensions, merely as a result of living together.  This can cause a real problem for a couple who, for example, buy a house together but do not record their intentions in writing as to what will happen if they part.  It may be possible to fall back on the idea of a “trust” being created by the actions of the couple, by looking at what contributions each made to the cost of the purchase of the home or towards its upkeep.  Sorting things out in this way almost always involves litigation. Any Court action is expensive, time-consuming and emotionally draining.

Ideally a couple buying a home together should have independent legal advice. This is to ensure that they are fully aware of the effects of their plans and what would happen if they were to part. A Declaration of Trust should be drawn up to record the couple’s intentions. It is quick, and can avoid expense and heartache in the future.


The unmarried fathers of children born in or after December 2003 will automatically have “Parental Responsibility” (the right to be involved in important decisions). Grandparents and other relatives may still need to apply for Parental Responsibility, although the government are considering giving grandparents the right to be involved automatically in their grandchildren’s lives. Disputes can be resolved by applying to the Court. Applications to the Court are treated the same whether parents are married or not. (For further information please visit Children ).

The “absent” parent has a duty to pay maintenance for a child. This applies whether the parents are married or not. Maintenance can either be agreed, or assessed by the Child Maintenance Service using a simple formula. If the gross income of a parent is up to £800 per week it is 12% for one child, 16% for two children and 19% for three or more children. If the gross income is between £800 and £3,000 per week, it is 9% for one child, 12% for two children and 15% for three or more children.

The Government is encouraging families to reach agreements between themselves. They have introduced charges for using the Child Maintenance Service. There is an initial charge of £20.00 to apply to the service for assistance in collecting child maintenance. There is also a collection charge of 20% of the child maintenance payment, payable by the non-resident parent in addition to the child maintenance payment and 4% of the child maintenance payment, deducted from the child maintenance a resident parent receives.

Domestic Violence

Both married and unmarried couples have the same rights to protection from domestic violence and may apply to the courts to have those rights enforced. Anyone subject to domestic violence can get injunctions to protect them, and court orders to decide who is to occupy the home. This can include allowing one person back into the home, or the other having to leave it.  (For further information please visit Domestic Violence ).

We offer a full range of advice and remedies for cohabiting couples or those who have split up. Please telephone 01223 202345 or email Will Cowell or Rebecca Varey.

For more in-depth information, please download our Law in a Nutshell guide below:

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