Navigating child arrangements in cohabitation agreements

Cohabitation agreements can be complex legal matters, especially when addressing child arrangements as they often present unique challenges for unmarried couples.

While this may seem like an intimidating hurdle to cross, understanding the legal aspects can offer some clarity and guidance for couples.

Cohabitation agreements which deal with child arrangements primarily aim to provide security and stability for children in non-marital living arrangements.

They can define the rights and responsibilities of each parent and establish a clear plan for the child’s upbringing.

Rights and responsibilities

When considering children, the rights and responsibilities of cohabiting couples closely resemble those of married couples or civil partners.

Mothers automatically receive parental responsibility.

For fathers, however, attaining parental responsibility is dependent on whether they are married to the child’s mother or are listed on the child’s birth certificate (for births registered from 1 December 2003 in England and Wales, from 4 May 2006 in Scotland and from 15 April 2002 in Northern Ireland).

In the event of a breakup, decisions about where the children will live and how much time they will spend with each parent need to be made.

If these decisions can’t be agreed upon, they may have to be resolved in court.

Preventing disputes

An advanced proactive and clear plan is not just practical, but essential, for preventing disputes and ensuring the welfare of your children.

  • Create a cohabitation agreement — While it may not seem necessary during the ‘honeymoon phase’ of moving in together, having a clearly defined cohabitation agreement drafted with the help of a solicitor is an important step for ensuring the best interests of your
  • Regularly review your agreement — Regular discussions about the cohabitation agreement can help prevent misunderstandings. If a new life event such as adopting or having a child occurs during a cohabitation agreement, it is essential to update the agreement to reflect the new changes and ensure all parties’ rights and responsibilities are appropriately
  • Include a dispute resolution clause — This clause can determine how potential disputes will be handled. For instance, you could agree to mediation or arbitration before resorting to litigation, which can save time, money and emotional
  • Child-centric approach — A child’s welfare should always be the focal point of any decision. English family law prioritises the best interests of the child under the Children Act 1989 and this should be reflected in your cohabitation

While it is impossible to predict or control the future, being proactive and taking steps to prevent disputes child arrangements can make a significant difference.

Essential components of the agreement

When considering child arrangements, your cohabitation agreement should ideally include the following:

  • Custody and living arrangements — The agreement should clearly stipulate where the child will live and who will have physical custody. If shared custody is chosen, a schedule should be laid out detailing the times the child will spend with each parent. This should be planned in the best interests of the
  • Decision-making — The agreement should indicate how major decisions for the child will be made. These can include decisions on education and healthcare. If one parent has sole decision-making responsibility, this should be
  • Financial responsibilities — The agreement should outline each parent’s financial duties for the child’s requirements, including who will provide financial support, how much will be provided, how often and through what
  • Living Arrangements – The parent with whom the child/ children do not live should ensure that the time they spend together is rights of access, clearly outlined in the agreement in the event of a breakup.

Seeking legal advice

Creating a cohabitation agreement that adequately addresses child arrangements can be a complex process and it is critical to consult a legal professional to ensure that the agreement is comprehensive, equitable and enforceable.

A qualified family solicitor can help you understand your rights and responsibilities, offer guidance on drafting the agreement and ensure all necessary provisions are included to protect the best interests of your child.

Choosing to live with someone comes with its own set of legal considerations, especially when children are part of the equation.

Having a robust cohabitation agreement in place that thoroughly addresses child arrangements can protect both parties’ interests, reduce potential disputes and most crucially, secure the best interests of the child.

For help and advice with family and relationship matters, please get in touch with Alison Green, Head of our Family and Relationship Team at Mackrell.Solicitors on +44 (0) 20 7240 0521 or at

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Alison Green
Alison has more than 25 years’ experience assisting clients with Family and Relationship matters. Her expertise covers matrimonial work, including divorce and the associated financial and children issues; pre and post-nuptial agreements; co-habitation disputes; civil partnership agreements and the breakdown of civil partnerships.