Unmarried Couples


If you are unmarried, and you separate from your partner, you do not need to take any legal steps to formalise your separation but it is often advisable to do so. You can make an informal agreement between you, or ask us to draw one up on your behalf, covering your finances, assets and children.

Your rights as an unmarried partner are very different from those bestowed upon married persons by the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 (as amended).


As an unmarried partner you have no claim on your partner for maintenance for yourself however long you have lived together.


The courts deal with this issue on the basis of contract and trust law. It is essential that you seek legal advice on your property. Many people assume that if they cohabit they will have similar rights regarding the property as a married person. In fact, the court will assess rights primarily on what was agreed between the parties prior to cohabitation taking place or, in some circumstances, after cohabitation. Contribution may be important in determining that intention. This is a complex area of law and you need legal advice to provide you with the certainty of your circumstances. In the event of a dispute, we can make application to court on your behalf for a declaration as to your rights and your financial interests.


If an unmarried partner dies intestate, there is no provision under the intestacy rules for the other partner to obtain any part of the estate. In limited circumstances, a claim on the estate can be made for financial provision if the parties have lived together for 2 years or more.

We are able to provide advice on the best way to make provision to cover each of you against the financial consequences of the death of the other.

Click here to read FAQ about making a will.

Parental Responsibility

Where parents are unmarried, the mother has parental responsibility from the moment of birth, but fathers do not always automatically acquire it.

Where a child birth is registered on or after 1st December 2003 by both parents together so that the father's name is on the birth certificate then the father will automatically have parental responsibility. If the birth was registered prior to 1st December 2003 or where it was registered after that date but by the mother alone, then the father will not have automatic parental responsibility.

Fathers without parental responsibility can obtain it by re-registering the birth, formal agreement with the mother or by applying for an order through the courts. We can draft out an agreement on your behalf or make a formal application should you wish this. Many unmarried parents do not understand that unmarried fathers currently have no legal rights without an agreement or order.

Child maintenance

Despite this, fathers remain responsible for supporting their children financially whether or not they have parental responsibility and the Child Support Agency can force them to pay maintenance.

If you are a parent continuing to care for your children after separation, the Children Act 1989 gives you the right to make an application against the other parent for financial provision of a capital or income nature.


We can also advise upon issues of contact in the event that this cannot be agreed between the two of you.