Children born out of wedlock and separating parents

The Office for National Statistics have recently reported that the majority of children born in 2021 in England and Wales were born out of wedlock. Here, Weronika Husejko looks at what protection is in place for unmarried couples with children should they decide to separate. 

The ONS recently reported that approximately 51.3% of children were born to parents that were not married or in a civil partnership.

Whilst there has been a steady increase in children born out of wedlock over the last decade, it appears that this recent spike has been directly impacted by the COVID-19 lockdown. During the lockdown, many couples were prevented from marrying and entering into civil partnerships. As a result, far more children were born to unmarried parents.

What significance does this have?

The main impact of this trend is upon separation. This is because unmarried couples do not have the same legal protection as married couples when they decide to end their relationship.

Unfortunately, no length of cohabitation results in a married legal status. Common law marriage does not exist in  England and Wales.

It is important that parents are aware of the fact that there is different financial provision upon separation for those who are unmarried. For example, married couples are entitled to apply to the Court for various Orders which unmarried couples cannot, such as spousal maintenance.

What can you do to protect yourself?

You may consider putting together a cohabitation agreement. This is an agreement between two people that decide to live together as a couple which can cover various areas including finances and child arrangements.

This type of agreement can also provide for finances upon separation. Unmarried parents can still be entitled to child maintenance and may be able to apply for various financial Orders in respect of the child from the other parent under Schedule 1 of the Children Act. However, a cohabitation agreement can provide unmarried parents with additional protection and certainty as to what the arrangements should be, both financially and with regard to arrangements for their child,  in the event that the relationship ends.

It is essential that unmarried parents obtain legal advice upon separation in relation to their children and their options for financial support.


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