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  Solicitors Bude Cornwall   Cohabiting & Marriage - Legal Advice - 09 Feb 2011 Holsworthy Solicitors

Solicitors are regularly consulted by parents anxious to know what their legal rights are over children. It is important to remember that many rights are rights of the child and not of the parent, but the parents rights do vary depending on whether or not they are married.
A brief overview is as follows:-                        
Parental Responsibility. ( The right to make decisions for a child eg medical treatment, education  religious upbringing etc).
Living Together.

If you are an unmarried mother, you have sole responsibility for a child, unless:
·        You have since 1/12/2003 registered or re-registered the birth of your child with the child’s father or
·        You enter into a parental responsibility agreement with the father and register it at court (this gives the father equal responsibility for the child) or
·        There is a court order in favour of the father.
If you are an unmarried father you do not automatically have parental responsibility for the child, but can acquire it in the three examples listed above. In addition, you can acquire parental responsibility by:
·        Becoming the child’s  guardian (which only takes effect on the mother’s death) or
·        Marrying the mother (provided your name is already on the birth certificate).
There is a legal presumption that every child born to a married woman is her husband’s child, unless there is clear proof to the contrary. In fact, a husband has the right to enter his name on the child’s birth certificate – whether or not he is the actual father.
Both married parents have parental responsibility for their child until the child attains the age of 18. This remains so even if the parents should separate or divorce.
Contact with children.
Living Together & Marriage.
If you separate, then you and your partner can enter into an informal arrangement for contact with your child. This situation applies whether you are living together or married – there is no difference. There are no set rules over the amount of contact. Contact can be as often or infrequent as you are both happy with. Provided you reach an agreement you are both happy with, you need not involve the court in applying for a formal contact order when the contact ordered can be quite strictly defined, depending on the circumstances of the case. The court will normally allow contact between the child and the absent parent, unless it is decided that this is not in the child’s best interests. It is very rare that the court will not permit any contact whatsoever.
Financial Support of children.
Living Together & Marriage.
Both parents are responsible for supporting a child financially. This is the case whether you are living together or married. The father is equally responsible even if he is neither living with the mother nor, in the case of an unmarried couple, named on the child’s birth certificate. Normally, the Child Support Agency will contact the father & assess, collect & enforce any maintenance payments. Similarly, if the child lives with the father, the CSA can contact the mother.
Appointing a Guardian.
Living Together.
A mother can appoint a guardian to act on her death but an unmarried father can only do so provided he has parental responsibility for the child (See above).
Either parent can appoint a guardian to act in the event of both parents dying. This is normally dealt with in a Will when both parents would appoint a guardian to take effect on the surviving spouse’s death.
Living Together & Marriage.
Both married and cohabitating couples can apply to adopt a child jointly.
Living Together & Marriage.
The children of both unmarried & married parents have a legal right to inherit from both parents even if there is no Will in existence. This, however, only applies to the natural children of both parents and not to step-children. If, for example, a husband left his wife and went to live with another woman and wanted to ensure that her children derived all or part of his estate following his death, then he would have to make a Will to provide for this or they would not be entitled to anything. This is another strong reason for making a Will and should reduce the possibility of an application on behalf of an unprovided for step-child being made to the court under The Inheritance (Provision for Families & Dependants) Act 1978.
 Paul Finn Solicitors provide a full range of legal services including Family & Children Law and Wills & Estate Planning.  Call us today on 01288 356 256.

Paul Finn
Director, Paul Finn Solicitors
Tel: 01288 356 256
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