The Cohabiting Family Breakdown – What Happens When There are Children Involved?
Any relationship breakdown will be tough for the adults; however, it is even harder for children who may not be mature enough to understand what is happening, why their family is no longer living together or most importantly, why they feel they no longer have the security or stability that they once enjoyed.
Children need to know the relationship breakdown is not their fault and that both of their parents still love them even though the living arrangements will be changing. Children should be reminded that they do not need to pick sides and parents should do what they can to ensure that children are not being involved in adult conversations which they may not understand or which could put undue pressure on them. Children can feel the weight of the world on their shoulders and it is up to the parents to lift that weight for them to avoid trouble at the time of the break up and/or later in life.
Cohabiting parents who spilt up retain an obligation to look out for the children's best interests regardless of whom the children end up living with. We strongly encourage parents to provide their children with support during the transitional period.  We understand that sometimes it is not possible for parents to reach an agreement, as the emotional impact of the breakdown can make discussions and an agreement seem impossible. Mediation can be very helpful in finding a way forward and in most cases the courts require parents to consider mediation and attend a meeting giving information about mediation (MIAM) before starting court proceedings. There are mediators we can make referrals to on your behalf.
In most cases where child support cannot be agreed between parents it is dealt with by the Child Maintenance Service (formerly the Child Support Agency). This should be the first port of call for child maintenance.  
In a small number of cases, for example where one parent lives outside the UK or where one parent has a higher income than the maximum amount the CMS would assess, Section 15 of the Children Act 1989 enables a parent to apply for the following orders:
  1. Periodical payments to the applicant for the benefit of the children;
  2. Lump sum to the applicant for the benefit of the children;
  3. Settlement ofproperty for the benefit of the children;
  4. Transfer of property to the applicant for the benefit of the child.
The Children Act 1989 can be very important to an unmarried parent, as it can be used to obtain property orders for the benefit of the children, which could secure the right for the children and the parent with care to occupy the home. Careful consideration needs to be given as to whether a case is suitable for a s.15 application.
Obtaining legal advice at the outset will equip you with expert advice from specialist family lawyers on what your options are and will give you a practical way forward.  We have a team of solicitors who will assist you with minimising the impact on children. If you are or were in a cohabiting relationship which has broken down, whether or not there are children involved, and want to know what your options are, contact our family law team to seek advice on 01462 483 800 or
Advice can be provided in the first instance at a fixed fee appointment for 1-hour at a cost of £144 inclusive of VAT or for 1 hour & 30 minutes for £180 inclusive of VAT at the time of writing (June 2018). The amount of time needed will depend on the complexity of your situation.
By Vyonne Manuel & Stephanie Wells
June 2018