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Legal Rights for Separating Parents

Author: Lorna Elliott LLB (hons), Barrister - Updated: 21 October 2012 |
Legal Rights Separation Divorce Child

When the bombshell hits you – that you and your partner are separating – you might feel a whole tangle of emotions: upset, anger, hurt, bitterness and bewilderment to name but a few. It’s hardly surprising, then, that people who find themselves in this situation often spare little thought for their legal rights. Within a very short time, however, you may be involved in several legal battles so it is important that you know where you stand from the outset.

Fathers And Parental Responsibility

As you probably know, all parents have a legal responsibility to support their children, regardless of whether they live with them or not. If as a father you were married to the mother of your child or children when they were born, you will automatically have parental responsibility. It can get complicated if a father is not married to the mother. If your name is on the child’s birth certificate, you will have parental responsibility. If it is not, then you will need the mother’s consent to have your name added to the birth certificate. You can only do this if there is no other father already named on the birth certificate. In the last instance you may apply to court to get an order stating that you have parental responsibility – whether the mother consents to this or not.

Decisions About Your Child

Living apart from your children does not negate the fact that you have parental responsibility for your child. You are still able to have a say as to how your child is brought up, although the day-to-day decisions are made by the parent who lives with your child. You may wish to discuss major events in your child’s life with your partner, such as religion or culture, where they go to school, who needs to be consulted about health and medical treatments, where your child will spend their holidays and what would happen to your child if one of you became to ill too look after them.

Child Maintenance

There are in effect three ways to make financial provision for your child’s upbringing. These are:

  • making a private agreement (although this is not legally binding)
  • going through the CSA
  • using the courts to make an order as to maintenance payments

Each of these options is dealt with in detail elsewhere on this website.

Your Will

If you do not have a will, now is the time to make one. If you don’t, then all of your assets, money and other possessions will be dealt with by way of the laws of intestacy in the event of your death. In practical terms, your assets may be distributed otherwise than in accordance with your wishes. If you do have a will, you may want to revise it now that you and your partner are splitting up. It is also important to consider appointing a guardian for your child in your will, in the event of your death. If you are the person with parental responsibility, this may be of particular significance to you.


If you and your partner are married, you may be considering getting a divorce. It is always wise to consult a divorce lawyer if there are assets in the marriage that are likely to be the subject of dispute. There are several legal reasons for divorce. These are:

  • Adultery
  • Unreasonable behaviour
  • Desertion for two years or more
  • Separation for two years or more (for which you need your partner’s consent to divorce)
  • Separation for five years or more, in which case you do not need your partner’s consent.

Your Home

If you own your home it is likely to be your biggest asset. Home ownership is often a hotly-contested issue amongst separating parents. Often, people think that they have to sell their home but this is not always the case. There are several options to consider:

  • changing the share that each of you hold in the home
  • delaying the sale until a future date
  • deciding how much of the money each of you will receive on the sale
  • deciding who will pay the mortgage

Things can get complicated if the property is in only one person’s name, but both parents have contributed to the upkeep of the property, or the mortgage or other household commitments like childcare. If this is you, you must speak to a solicitor before you move out as things can get very complicated legally if you don’t.

Other Possessions

If you and your ex-partner lived together but weren’t married, the court generally applies principles to your possessions. If you paid for something, you own it, unless it was given to your ex-partner as a gift. If you bought something as a couple and paid equal shares, you own the item equally. If you bought something out of both of your money, but it is not possible to say who paid what, you both own the item equally.

You may be entitled to legal aid to help you with the costs of your separation, divorce or other family proceedings. People on income support, Job Seeker’s Allowance, Employment and Support Allowance or Guaranteed Pension Credit are automatically entitled to legal aid. You may also be eligible if you have savings or assets that are worth less than £8000, and your pre-tax earnings each month are less than £2,657. For more advice, contact a solicitor.

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