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27 Living Together and Your Rights if You Separate

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1 Introduction

2. How is living together different from being married?

3. Setting up home

4. Making a ´living-together agreement´

5. When you are living together

This section highlights the law in various areas where your situation differs from that of a married couple. It also tells you what you can do to protect each other and your children, if this is possible.

If you have children
An unmarried mother has ‘parental responsibility’ automatically for her children. Parental responsibility is the legal term that means all the rights and duties of parenthood. The child’s father can only share parental responsibility if:

  • he later marries the mother;
  • the child's birth was registered after 1 December 2003 and he is named on the birth certificate as the father;
  • the child's birth was registered before 1 December 2003 and no father's name was included on the birth certificate, but the birth has been re-registered and the father's name added;
  • the parents enter into a 'parental responsibility agreement';
  • a court makes an order for parental responsibility; or
  • he gets a 'residence order' (a court order that says who a child will live with).

Same-sex couples who become civil partners can share parental responsibility for a child either by entering into a parental responsibility agreement, or by getting a court order for parental responsibility.

Do we both need parental responsibility?
In normal everyday life it makes little difference whether you both have parental responsibility. A parent who has it can delegate it (pass it on) to another adult. In an emergency any adult can take action to protect a child in his or her care. But in more formal situations, such as giving consent to medical treatment for the child, only an adult with parental responsibility can do this.

If the child’s mother dies and the father doesn’t have parental responsibility, he would have to apply for a court order to get it. This can add to the complications after such a death.

In law, the terms ‘stepchild’ and ‘step-parent’ apply to married relationships and civil partnerships. If you are an unmarried ‘step-parent’ you have no legal or financial responsibility for the children of your partner.

However, if you have a close bond with your stepchildren and it seems to you and your partner that it would help to have a legal relationship, you could make a joint application to the court to have an order for ‘shared residence’, which would bring with it parental responsibility. If you are a step-parent, you have to have a good reason for wanting parental responsibility. You must also tell the children’s other parent about the plan, and they can say whether or not they agree with it.

Your partner can also appoint you as the guardian of your stepchildren in case she or he dies first. However, this will not take effect if the children’s other parent has parental responsibility and is still alive when your partner dies.

6. If you or your partner dies

7. State benefits for people living together

8. Tax matters

9. Pensions

10. If you split up

11. Arrangements if you have children

12. Sorting out the home

13. Sorting out other items you own

14. Dealing with emergencies

15. Terms used in matters to do with living together

16. Further help

17. About this leaflet

The leaflets in this series give you an outline of your legal rights. They are not a complete guide to the law and are not intended to be a guide to how the law will apply to you or to any specific situation. The leaflets are regularly updated but the law may have changed since this was printed, so information in it may be incorrect or out of date.

If you have a problem, you will need to get more information or personal advice to work out the best way to solve it. See 'Further help' for sources of information and advice.

This leaflet is published by the Gurkha Free Legal Advice (LSC). It was written in association with Imogen Clout, a solicitor and mediator specialising in family law.

Leaflet version: January 2009

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