UK Co-Parenting Law
What is co-parenting?
Co-parenting is an arrangement entered into by people who are not married or in a relationship but where they agree to conceive and raise a child together. It has become a popular way for lesbian and gay couples to parent together but is also a way for single people, particularly friends, to achieve their dreams of becoming a parent.
What legal rights will I have to any child that I want to be a co-parent to?
The legal position will vary from country to country. In most countries that recognise artificial insemination as a form of fertility treatment, the donor will have no legal rights or responsibilities to the child if the donation is made through a licensed clinic. However, in countries where artificial insemination is unregulated, the donor is likely to remain the legal father of the child. You should, therefore, check the fertility laws in your country. In the UK, if the child is conceived using donated sperm, the legal position will vary depending not only on whether artificial insemination took place in a licensed clinic but also whether the arrangement is entered into with a lesbian couple.
Co-parenting with Lesbian Couples in a civil partnership
If a man donates sperm by artificial insemination rather than natural insemination (having intercourse) the female who gives birth to the child will be regarded as the mother of the child and her partner will be regarded as the other parent and will have parental responsibility for the child. It does not matter whether the artificial insemination happened at a licensed clinic or by self-insemination. Also, treatment by a licensed clinic can be abroad and does not have to be in the UK. The donor will not be regarded as the father and will not have parental responsibility.
If natural insemination takes place, then the donor will be regarded as the father. However, the father will not automatically have parental responsibility for the child unless he is also registered on the birth certificate. If he is not registered on the birth certificate, he will have to rely on the mother entering into a written parental responsibility agreement with him or apply to the court for a parental responsibility order. The partner could still apply for step-parent parental responsibility as the civil partnership would put her in the position of a step-parent. It is also possible to enter into a step-parent parental responsibility agreement, and forms can be obtained from the court service - gov.uk
A donor wishing to co-parent with a lesbian couple in a civil partnership will have to reach an agreement with them about the degree of involvement he will have with a child and if he should have parental responsibility. While written agreements can be put in place, these are not legally binding. A high level of trust will be needed between the donor and the couple.
Co-Parenting with Lesbian Couples not in a civil partnership
If self-insemination is used, then the female who carries the child will be regarded as the mother, but her partner will not be regarded as the other parent instead the donor will be regarded as the legal father. The donor father will not have parental responsibility automatically unless he is registered on the birth certificate He will have to either apply to the court or enter into a written parental responsibility agreement with the mother. However, if artificial insemination takes place at a licensed clinic (anywhere in the world), the partner will be regarded as the second parent as long as the couple has completed consent forms agreeing to this. However, to ensure that the partner obtains parental responsibility she will need to be registered on the birth certificate. The donor will not be regarded as the father.
Gay Couples Co-parenting with a Single Woman
Sperm donation to a single woman by artificial insemination or natural insemination will mean that the man donating the sperm will be regarded as the legal father and the woman as the mother. If the donation is by self-insemination, the donor is automatically regarded as the father. If donation takes place through a licensed clinic, the single woman will have to agree to the donor being named as the legal father. In both cases, the father will only have parental responsibility if he is registered on the birth certificate. The partner of the donor will not be legally recognised as the second parent. One way to give legal rights to the donor’s partner is to appoint him as a guardian. If it is intended that the child should live with the gay couple then the partner can apply for a residence order, and this will automatically give him parental responsibility for the child.
A Single Man Co-Parenting With a Single Women
If self-insemination is used, the donor will be the legal father of the child. If artificial insemination takes place at a licensed clinic, then the donor will only be regarded as the father if both he and the woman sign consent forms agreeing to this. In both cases, the father will only have parental responsibility if he is registered on the birth certificate. If it is intended that the child should live with him then he can apply for a ‘residence order’, and this will automatically give him parental responsibility for the child.
A Single Man Co-Parenting With a Married Couple
If self-insemination takes place either by artificial insemination or natural insemination (intercourse), the woman will be regarded as the mother, but her husband will not be regarded. Instead, the donor will be regarded as the legal father. He will automatically have parental responsibility if he is named on the birth certificate otherwise he will have to rely on the mother entering into a Parental Responsibility Agreement with him or applying to the court for a Parental Responsibility Order. However, if treatment takes place through a licensed clinic, for example, using Intrauterine insemination (IUI) and the married couple agree in writing to the husband being treated as the legal father, then he will be regarded as the father. He will have parental responsibility because he is married to the mother.
What is Parental Responsibility?
In the UK it is possible for a father to apply for a court order or enter into a written agreement with the mother to give him parental responsibility for a child. This means that he will then have a right to be kept informed and to take part in decisions about the child’s education, health, welfare.
More than one person can have Parental Responsibility for a child.
If the mother agrees then the father can enter into a written Parental Responsibility Agreement with her, this is a type of contract. You can obtain a form from a solicitor who can also help you to complete it, or you can obtain the form from the court service - gov.uk
The Form must be signed by both parents, and the parent's signatures will need to be witnessed by an Officer of the Court or a Magistrate. The Form then has to be sent to the Principal Registry of the High Court.
It will not be an effective agreement until it has been sent to the court and registered there. Once the written agreement has been signed and filed parental responsibility can only be taken away from the father by an order of the court.
If the mother will not agree to enter into a parental responsibility agreement with the father he will need to apply for a parental responsibility order from the court. See CompactLaw - Children
What is a Residence Order?
This is an order that confirms with which parent a child will live for the majority of the time. The parent who does not have residence of the child will usually have a contact order, and this can state the arrangements for overnight contact on weekends and during the holidays. It is possible for the parents to have a joint residence order where the child splits their time between two homes but the court is only likely to do this if the parents live very close to each other so that the child only goes to one school and does not have to spend a lot of time travelling between addresses.
What does a Guardianship Appointment involve?
You can appoint someone to act as a guardian to your child(ren) after your death. The mother and father should agree as to this appointment should they both die. It should be a person you trust. The appointment can be made separately in the form of a Deed or as part of the terms of your Will. You will need a Solicitor to draw up these documents for you.
Registering the birth
Lesbian couples in a civil partnership – the partner who does not carry the baby can still be registered on the birth certificate as the second parent. Registrars at the Registry Office will assume that a child is a child of the civil partnership and will not usually question this. However, if natural insemination has taken place, the donor would be entitled to be registered as the father in place of the second parent.
What issues do we need to consider in a Co-Parenting Agreement?
An important issue to consider is who will be named on the birth certificate as this can affect whether the father has parental responsibility for the child. You will need to think about where the child will live (this is known as ‘residence’) and how often they will see the other parent (this is known as ‘contact’). If these issues cannot be agreed, then you can apply to the court for a ‘contact or ‘residence’ order. See CompactLaw - Relationships & Family Law
Most importantly you will need to agree on financial support for the child and this will include making wills to provide for the child should one parent die. An issue that often arises for separated or divorced couples is what to do when one parent is offered a job in another part of the country or abroad or wishes to move because they have met a new partner. You may need to revise your expectations about where the child will live. It is important to think about these big issues before entering into any co-parenting arrangement. You also need to ensure that you and the co-parent have the same parenting values and have discussed whether the donor will make future donations if you want a sibling for the child. You should always seek legal advice before entering into any written agreement. You should also remember that such agreements are not legally binding although they are evidence of your intentions and are known as a ‘Memorandum of Understanding’.