Being Dad Relationships

The truth about unmarried fathers’ rights

Fathers' rights
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Written by Tim Barnes-Clay

We look at exactly what fathers’ rights you have if you’re unmarried and unsure.

Nobody wants to think about it. You think you’ve met the person of your dreams, you move in together and things couldn’t be better. Things couldn’t possibly go wrong. Unless of course, the worst happens.

Yes, sometimes things aren’t always sunshine and rainbows in love. Every so often a long-standing relationship can fall apart with no way back.

Unmarried couples living together have become the fastest growing family type in the country. The number of cohabiting couples doubled from 1.5 million in 1996 to 3.3 million today. It’s no wonder why so many people are choosing this lifestyle.  Some of us can’t afford to or don’t feel a need to pop the question and are happy living a stable family life without the hassle of a wedding.

But if things don’t work out, would you know your rights? And the potential challenges and hardships ahead of you and your partner if you decide to separate?

Busting the myth

A survey carried out by the family law association Resolution revealed that two thirds of people in cohabiting relationships are completely unaware that in the UK there is no such thing as a ‘common-law marriage’. That is, a marital relationship in everything but writing.

This means that many of us can often feel confused and in the dark as to where we stand when it comes to the tough questions of money and the house when things don’t go as planned.

Under the law today, it’s possible for a couple to be together for years on end, raise children together and then walk away with no responsibility for that person when it all comes tumbling down.

According to a survey carried out of over 2,000 adults in the UK, 79% of people agreed more should be done to guarantee legal protections and rights to make it clear where everyone stands in such a muddled situation.

So what are your rights?

Because there is no legal recognition of the relationship, you have fewer legal protections when it comes to who gets what.

To keep it simple, what is officially yours in name is still yours when a separation happens. As long as the car, the bank account and even your debts are owned by you, it’s yours to legally keep. Nothing has changed since before the relationship – so you take what was originally yours.

More money, more problems?

But often, things are never that simple. Especially where money matters are concerned.

Joint bank accounts and the question of money tends to be the tensest sticking points in any breakup. But the fact is if you have a joint bank account then the money is both yours, regardless of how much one partner does or doesn’t pay into the account.

In that situation, Citizens Advice recommend closing an account with a joint name as soon as possible.

The kids question

When it comes to the rights you have as an unmarried father, you only have parental responsibility if you are listed on the birth certificate of the child or if a parental responsibility agreement with the mother is registered in court. It’s important you know exactly where you stand to ensure you have access to the wellbeing of your child.

Navigating your way through a breakup like this can be incredibly distressing, but nobody has to go through it alone.

Resolution has been raising awareness on the lack of legal protection for unmarried couples as part of Cohabitation Awareness Week. They offer legal advice and resolution for family disputes like this.

You can find out more from Resolution here or on 01689 820272.
Citizens Advice also offer helpful advice and support on their website.