Since records began in 1845, each year there have been more children born to married mums than unmarried. However, this longstanding trend was recently broken, representing an interesting cultural shift and one that could have legal implications for a newborn’s parents.
According to the latest ONS data, there were 320,713 live births outside of a marriage or civil partnership in 2021 compared to 304,706 births to married parents. However, this burgeoning trend could have serious consequences for unassuming families, many of whom remain unaware that their marital status could impact a child’s future, particularly in the event of a relationship breakdown.
Considering the already stressful nature of most separations, the care and responsibility of a child can create added emotional pressure, especially if there is no clear indication as to who will take custody or how a child will be financially supported. For this reason, it is important that parents familiarise themselves with the laws surrounding parental responsibility and financial provision, seeking legal advice if needed.
Dal Heran, Head of Family Law at Wright Hassall, commented: “From birth, the mother has automatic parental responsibility for her child and this responsibility is also granted to fathers that are married to the mother.
“However, the same rules do not apply to children born outside of marriage, as the partner must be registered on the birth certificate to be given parental responsibility – failing to do so can lead to more serious problems later down the line if the parents separate and a child contact dispute arises.
“As it stands, the financial provision for children following a breakup is governed by the Child Maintenance Service, regardless of the parents’ marital status. This is calculated by the gross salary of the paying parent against the number of children for whom maintenance is to be paid.
“Despite this, unmarried parents are not afforded the same protections as those that are. The issue of where parents and children will live is usually settled in conjunction with divorce proceedings, so the same does not apply for unmarried parents that are separating.
“Given that unmarried couples do not have the same rights, this can lead to further difficulties, especially if the family home is not jointly owned and the parent who is to be the main carer is not the legal property owner. For this reason, it is always best practice to seek legal support from an experienced family law team if there is any uncertainty surrounding the issues discussed.”
Births in England and Wales
From 2020 to 2021, there was a 1.8% increase in births across England and Wales, with 624,828 live births in the two countries combined. Therefore, the issue of parental responsibility and financial provision is relevant to parents in all areas, with nine out of the ten regions experiencing an annual increase in child births.
The only region to see a decline in the number of births was London, with a drop of 0.6% from 111,688 in 2020 to 110,961 in 2021. The region with the largest increase in births was the East of England at 4.2%, moving from 64,313 to 67,054 within the space of a year.
The South East (3.8%) and South West (3.6%) followed closely behind in terms of the largest annual increase, whilst West Midlands (0.2%) and Wales (0.5%) were amongst the regions with the smallest increase in births.
Given that this is the first year on record whereby the number of births to unmarried parents has outnumbered those by married mums, it is vital that parents seek legal advice to clarify their own situation, ensuring the future of their children is protected even in the event of a relationship breakdown.