Who Has Custody of a Child When the Parents Are Not Married?

Jan 21, 2021   ·   4 minute read
Diverse children enjoying playing with toys

Child custody and contact is a tricky topic whatever the legal status of the parents of a child. For example, the parents could be unmarried and have never lived together, be a former cohabiting couple, married or divorced or in a civil partnership. In this blog we look at who has custody of a child when the parents aren’t married.

Who has custody of a child?

UK children law doesn’t give a parent custody of their child automatically by virtue of being a parent, whether you are an unmarried or married parent. However, if custody is in dispute, either parent can apply to court for a child arrangements order.


A child arrangements order is a bit like the old custody and contact orders as a child arrangements order sets out the person the child should live with and the contact arrangements with the other parent or other extended family members.


A child arrangements order can be very flexible and can say that there should be equal or shared parenting or, at the other extreme, the court order can say that one parent should have no contact or only indirect or supervised contact with the child.


When making a child arrangements order the court will make an order that the family law judge thinks is in your child’s best interests. The judge will consider arrange of factors when making his or her decision. These factors are known as ‘the welfare checklist’. The checklist includes looking at your child’s wishes and feelings in light of your child’s age and understanding as well as assessing how capable each parent is of meeting your child’s physical and emotional needs.


When considering the welfare checklist and what specific child arrangements order to make the court won’t consider the legal status of the parent’s relationship as a very relevant factor in the decision making process. That is because the test for what child arrangements order to make, and who should get custody, is based on what is in your child’s best interests rather than the status of the parent’s relationship.


In today’s age, family judges are of the view that whether you are a married mother or father or unmarried the issue for the court to determine is what custody and contact order best meets a child’s needs. A mother and father may have been in an unmarried relationship for many years and whilst you may think that in that scenario the mother will have more ‘’rights’’ over their child a judge will make a child arrangements order, setting out the custody and contact, that he or she thinks will meet the needs of the child. For example, if the father is a loving father who has always enjoyed a close relationship with the child a shared care order may be appropriate. On the other hand, if one parent has either been physically or emotionally abusive towards the child then this would be a reason to give custody of the child to the other parent and to stop or limit the contact to the other parent.

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When it comes to children law the court looks at things from the perspective of what is best for the child and in the child’s interests. That consideration does not pay a lot of heed to whether you are married or unmarried or in a civil partnership but instead focusses on your child and their characteristics and needs. Accordingly, in the court’s eyes, it is far more important that a parent wants and is able to commit to a long term relationship with their child after a parental separation than the legal status of the parental relationship.


If you are a parent engaged in a custody or contact dispute then children law solicitors will recommend that you don’t focus on the status of your relationship with the other parent and instead focus on your child’s needs and best interests. That way the court is far more likely to be persuaded to make the type of child arrangements order that you are seeking.

How can Evolve Family Law help?

At Evolve Family Law we recognise that every family is different and we therefore welcome calls to discuss how we can help your family, whether it is an application for a parental responsibility order or a child arrangements order or to discuss the potential legal costs of going to court for a child custody order. Call us or complete our online enquiry form . We can also set up a video conference, skype or telephone appointment so you can speak to an experienced Cheshire children law solicitor from anywhere in the world.