Are the kids alright? Financial support for separated unmarried couples

There is a common misconception that couples who live together for a number of years obtain the same rights on separation as those who are married. In our survey, 26 per cent of those asked believed that unmarried couples who had been living together for more than a year had the same legal rights as married couples. 

In fact, the law treats a cohabiting couple as two separate individuals: there is no such thing as a “common-law marriage”.  Divorcing spouses can apply to court for an order for spousal maintenance but there is no such option available to a separating cohabitant. Regardless of the length of their relationship or the standard of living they have become accustomed to, the only financial claim a cohabitant has against their ex-partner personally (as opposed to any property claims they may have) is in their role as parent to any children the couple have. No children, no claim. 

The financial provision for children of separating unmarried couples is governed by a combination of the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) (previously the Child Support Agency) provisions and Schedule 1 Children Act 1989. 

Unless the children split their time equally between each parent , then the parent who has the children for the least amount of time will be expected to pay regular weekly or monthly child maintenance to the other parent. There is a set formula for working out how much child support is payable. You can find a handy calculator here. 

The parent who lives with the children can also ask the court to order the other parent to: 

  • provide housing for the benefit of the children; or
  • pay for school fees or other educational expenses; or
  • pay expenses associated with a child’s disability; or
  • provide a fund of money to pay for specific items the children need.

There is no financial limit on the order that the court can make. However, the court can only make one order for housing. If you find yourself facing a claim to provide housing, remember that the house must be for the benefit of the child.  Normally this means that once the child finishes their full-time education, the property purchased is sold and the funds returned you.  

Mediation can be really effective for working out financial arrangements for a separating cohabiting couple and their children, as can collaborative law or arbitration. Take a look at our resources on dispute resolution to find out more.

Kris Arpon