Info & Advice

What should I consider when ending my relationship while pregnant?

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Breaking up is difficult and stressful at any time, let alone when you are pregnant. When deciding what to do as a parent, you need to strike a balance between what is best for you and what is best for the baby. The two are not mutually exclusive and, as a result, can create further conflict. Focussing on your baby’s needs whilst pregnant needs to be counterbalanced against your own needs to be supported and looked after. So what should you consider when ending your relationship whilst pregnant?

In the early days, the involvement of your baby’s other parent should be done in such a way that it doesn’t cause you anxiety and helps rather than hinders your position.

Obtaining parental rights

The other parent’s legal rights regarding the baby will depend on whether you are married or cohabiting. Mothers automatically receive parental responsibility when they give birth. If you are married to the baby’s father at the time of its birth, then the father will automatically obtain parental responsibility when the birth is registered. If you are not married, then a father will only obtain parental responsibility if they are present with the child’s mother when the birth is registered. If the other parent is not present at registration, then they will not get parental responsibility.

Similarly, same-sex female couples who have a child where only one is the biological parent, will both have parental responsibility if they were in a civil partnership prior to starting fertility treatment such as donor insemination or IVF. Here, the mother will automatically gain parental responsibility, while their partner will obtain it if they are named on the child’s birth certificate.

If you are not married or in a civil partnership, you should consider whether you want the other party to have parental responsibility for your child when it is born.

What is parental responsibility?

Parental responsibility confers rights and legal duties on a parent to:

  • Decide where your child lives
  • Agree to your child’s medical treatment
  • Choose how and where your child goes to school or is educated
  • Choose which, if any, religion your child follows
  • Deciding and registering the child’s name
  • Deciding whether your child can leave the country, whether for holiday or permanently

If your ex doesn’t have parental responsibility for your child, the right to make any of the above decisions won’t officially require any input from them. If you split on good terms, then you will probably make these decisions together. But if your separation is acrimonious, having a say in your child’s life will be more difficult. Essentially, if they don’t have parental responsibility, your ex won’t have any rights to be involved in any decisions.

There are several ways the other parent can obtain parental responsibility. These are:

  • As stated above, registering the child’s birth with the mother
  • Entering into a parental responsibility agreement with the child’s mother
  • Applying to court for a Parental Responsibility Order
  • Being named as the parent with care under a Child Arrangements Order

Finances and child maintenance

Whether or not your ex has parental responsibility, they will still be legally responsible for paying child maintenance when the baby is born. If you are married, then you may be able to claim spousal maintenance from your ex, but if you are simply cohabiting, then you will not be entitled to any financial assistance.

If you are renting and the property is in joint names, then you are legally entitled to remain in the property. However, if the property is in your ex’s sole name, then they are entitled to ask you to leave.

If the property is owned jointly between you, whether or not you are married, then you are both legally entitled to remain living in the property. If the property is in your ex’s sole name, then if you are married or in a civil partnership, you may register your Matrimonial Home Rights. Although you will not legally own the property, you will be legally allowed to live there while remain married or in the civil partnership.

If you are cohabiting and the property is in your ex’s sole name, the fact that you are pregnant and have been in a committed relationship does not provide you with a financial stake in the home. You may, however, be able to seek an order requiring your ex to fund the purchase of a home for any children until they reach 18. This is only feasible if your ex has sufficient wealth to do so. In addition, once the child reaches the age of 18, the property must be returned to your ex, and you will have to find somewhere else to live.

Other considerations

Aside from legal issues, you will also need to think about other factors. Do you want your ex to be present at antenatal appointments, scans, or the child’s birth? Given the intimacy of giving birth, you may prefer to have another birth partner and for your ex to attend after the baby is born. Alternatively, you may be happy to have them be there in a supportive role.

How much do you want your ex to be available and involved after the birth? If you are breastfeeding, this may make it more difficult, particularly if you are trying to establish a feeding routine. Getting separated parents involved with newborn babies requires a lot of support, patience, and facilitation. For new parents, caring for a baby will be a steep learning process and need lots of guidance and support. You will also need to consider your ex’s family, too. They are likely to want to be involved, so setting boundaries about when they can visit and how long they can stay, will reduce the likelihood of constant interruptions and out staying their welcome.

Getting your own support

You will have a lot on your plate coping with a relationship breakdown and being pregnant, so it is important to plan your own support network. Whether this involves your ex, their family, or your own, is up to you. Also, make contact with services and resources in your area that could help. During the pregnancy, you may find it useful to speak with a counsellor to help you work through any issues you will face and prepare for the adjustments that arrive with a new baby.

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