Unmarried Parents: What Are Your Rights and How Can You Protect Your Family?
According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), there was a decrease in the number of births last year in 2019 compared to previous years, with 640,370 babies being born in just England and Wales alone.
Despite a dip in the number of births, 2019 saw a spike in the number of babies being born to unmarried parents, with almost 50% of newborns going home to cohabiting mums and dads, as well as the average age that women got married being 35 and a half years.
These figures may not be too surprising as it is now more common to marry and have children at a later age, but the fact that many unmarried parents do not have financial protection in place, such as life insurance and a will, is quite astounding.
As an unmarried parent, it is important to know your rights and understand the risks in the event that one of you were to pass away or if you separated.
While this may not be something you wish to think about, it’s something that needs to be done to protect your children if these situations ever arise unexpectedly.
In this guide:
Unmarried parents’ rights
Times have changed and people aren’t settling down as they used to years ago, and unfortunately, “the law hasn’t kept up with the new reality, so unmarried parents and their children face potential pitfalls – from inheritance risks to losing financial support”, as stated by Sarah Coles, a personal finance analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown.
Ms. Coles also says that “whether being unmarried parents is a temporary or permanent state, it’s essential to understand the risks, and take steps to protect yourself.”
To help you understand the potential risks that can arise in an unmarried relationship, we will look at what your legal rights are in the UK if you were to split up or if one partner dies.
What rights do I have if I split up with my partner?
If a child’s parents are not married, the birth mother automatically has parental responsibility. In order for the birth father to have this, he needs to have registered the birth of their child jointly with the mother and his name must also be on the child’s birth certificate. If the father hasn’t done either of these things, he will either need to arrange a parental responsibility agreement with the mother or a court order.
What is parental responsibility?
This is a legal term that gives all mothers and most fathers the right to make decisions on behalf of their child.
For those who have parental responsibility, the most important responsibilities are:
- To provide a home for their child
- To protect and maintain him/her
To see the other responsibilities that are expected of people with parental responsibility, visit the GOV.UK website.
In the event of a separation (not divorce), your ex-partner is not legally obligated to support you financially, but it is both parents’ responsibility to support their child financially, no matter who the child lives with or which parent has parental responsibility.
It is important to remember that even if you both agree on certain things about your child, it has no legal standing and will be difficult to enforce legally if a problem should ever arise.
If you can’t reach an agreement after you split up, you can seek help from the Child Maintenance Service.
It is also crucial to note that if you split up as a cohabiting couple, you do not have the same rights to your property as married couples do, so it is worth putting legal and financial plans in place to protect you, your partner and your children, in case you decide to separate one day.
Again, this isn’t an easy thing to think about when you’re happy in a relationship and have with a newborn baby, but you must always put the child first and protect them for against all types of unfortunate eventualities in life, and . even Even if you feel like you and your partner will never split up, it’s worth having the peace of mind that your loved ones are protected.
What happens when one parent dies?
If you pass away without having a will in place, your child or children have a right to your inheritance. However, your partner will not be entitled to receive anything unless you both own your house or other assets.
Remember, if you inherit from your deceased unmarried partner, you will still have to pay inheritance tax if it applies to you.
Learn more: How to Avoid Inheritance Tax
The surviving unmarried partner will also not be entitled to receive any bereavement support, which is a total of £3,500 paid in monthly installments of £350 for up to 19 months – but it only applies to a married parent who is left widowed.
Ways to protect your family
By being on the birth certificate and by also being present when the birth is registered, the father is given parental responsibility, so this is one way to protect your rights, but you will need more legal protection if you have specific wishes regarding your estate, assets, money and anything else you own.
Here are some options:
For legal protection, you can set up a cohabitation agreement, in which you can include details on how you both manage your finances, who owns what assets in the relationship and what will happen if you split up.
Before doing anything like this, you should both sit down together and have a good think about how your assets are owned. If both partners are contributing financially, you could get a ‘tenants in common’ agreement.
Always be sure to seek professional advice from a legal expert if you are unsure what option is right for you.
A standard life insurance policy is available for you if you want to leave a large lump sum to your loved ones when you pass away. With certain policies, you can cover your mortgage so that your mortgage is paid for in the event of your death, which will help your loved ones if they are left without an income.
Write a will
In a will, you can state your final wishes regarding who is entitled to what inheritance, what should happen to your property as well as your funeral preferences.
Without one, your estate will be distributed in line with the UK’s intestacy rules, which is unlikely to match any of your personal wishes.
You can get started with your will or life insurance policy right now, or for more information, read our related guides below: