PARENTING THE Modern Way
The ways in which people, including those in the LGBT community, can create a family, have evolved greatly over the years. Modern families are wonderfully diverse, and it is a huge positive that society is more accepting of different family structures. Jemimah Fleet, family solicitor at B P Collins, who specialises in modern parenting, offers advice on some of the more modern routes available to creating a family.
Surrogacy is a way of building a family where a woman, who does not intend to be the baby’s mother, carries and gives birth to a child for someone else, whether that’s a single mum or dad, heterosexual couples or same sex couples.
Surrogacy is possible both in the UK and in some countries around the world. Whilst generally it is very positive experience for those embarking on a surrogacy journey, the Law Commission is currently reviewing the UK’s surrogacy laws, which are hugely outdated and do not meet the interests of those involved in the process. There are various legal obstacles to navigate. For example, the surrogate, as the birth mother, is always considered the legal mother and the intended parent(s) can only apply to court for a parental order, to resolve legal parentage, once the child is born. This inevitably places the child in a legal limbo until legal matters are resolved. This process can take months to finalise – a delay which is both frustrating and creates uncertainty for all of those involved. It is therefore important to seek early legal advice to ensure that the full legal implications are considered.The Law Commission aims to ensure the child’s best interests remain the key focus and provides reassurance to all those involved on the surrogacy journey.
Many parents also choose to build their families through donor conception, particularly single women and lesbian couples, who may conceive with a sperm donor.
A clinic sperm donor may be chosen, where the clinic will match a client with a donor who is anonymous at the point of donation. The law surrounding donor anonymity changed in 2005, although what information is available depends on the specific date of conception. Identifiable information about the donor, such as name, date of birth and last known address, is now available to children who are conceived with donor sperm at a clinic, once they turn 18 and if conception was in the UK. Since 1991, a central register has been maintained by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), which records information about treatment at licenced fertility clinics in the UK. It is also possible for a donor conceived child to request non identifiable information about a donor, including height, weight and eye colour, from the age of 16.
Some may choose to use a known sperm donor, who could be a friend or family member. A key consideration is that there may be a continuing relationship with the donor and there will be known background information about them. But the relationship and the intentions of the donor may need to be managed carefully. Although not legally binding, a pre-conception agreement detailing intentions about parenting roles and arrangements for the child in the future – which could vary from minimal involvement to co-parenting – can be invaluable and hopefully avoid a dispute in the future.
It’s important to remember that legal parentage can be more complicated in these situations, depending on the circumstances of conception. The law allows two legal parents and the birth mother will always be regarded as the legal mother, but identifying a second legal parent will depend on the circumstances of conception, marital status of those involved or if the correct consent forms are completed when a clinic sperm donor is chosen. It is therefore vital to seek expert advice to ensure that the full legal position concerning parentage is understood.
B P Collins work with many clients embarking on a co-parenting arrangement, which are usually single women or men; or sometimes friends deciding to conceive a child together. There has also been a surge in people “self-matching” online, having a child together, but continuing to live separately and co-parent. The relationship between co-parents and the legal status and obligations, needs to be carefully considered. Entering into a co-parenting agreement, although not legally binding, may help to ensure expectations are aligned and hopefully avoid disputes in the future and establish a strong foundation for raising the child.