There are all sorts of compelling reasons to co-parent with friends as opposed to using an unknown sperm donor.
Such arrangements can be made between single people, between two couples or indeed any combination of single people and couples who choose to start a family
Under English law a child can only have two legal parents. The identity of the parents will be determined by the relationship status of the birth mother and the way in which the child is conceived.
If the child is conceived by sexual intercourse, the legal parents of the child will be the woman who carries the child and the biological father.
If the child is conceived by artificial insemination (either at home or at a fertility clinic) AND the birth mother is married or in a civil partnership, the legal parents will be the birth mother and her spouse.
If the birth mother is not married and not in a civil partnership and the artificial insemination is undertaken at home (i.e. not in a fertility clinic), the second legal parent will be the biological father.
If the birth mother is not married and not in a civil partnership, and the artificial insemination is undertaken at a clinic licensed by the HFEA, it is possible to nominate the child’s second legal parent as the mother’s partner.
It is important to consider who will have Parental Responsibility (“PR”) for the child. Whilst a child can only have two legal parents, more people can share PR for a child.
Anyone with PR has a right to be involved in all major decisions regarding the child’s health, religion, education etc. It is a helpful way of establishing someone’s parental role in a child’s life.
The birth mother will automatically have PR for the child. If the birth is married or in a civil partnership, her spouse/civil partner will automatically share PR with the birth mother.
If the birth mother is not married, the child’s second legal parent will acquire PR either by registration on the child’s British birth certificate, by court order or by entering into a formal Parental Responsibility Agreement.
It is possible for a non-legal parent to acquire PR by way of a child arrangements order from the English Court.
Most people entering into co-parenting agreements will draw up an agreement setting out how the child will be raised and the obligations of all the parties.
Such agreements are not legally enforceable in the UK but in some cases they can be invaluable in helping parents to overcome disputes amongst themselves.
If court applications are made, co-parenting agreements will hold some weight as evidence of the intention of the parties. The Court, however, has regard to the best interests of the child as its primary consideration when determining disputes relating to children and will make decisions based on the child’s welfare rather than the content of the agreement.
Co-parenting/known donor disputes
Disputes can arise in co-parenting arrangements as they do in all families and can relate to any number of things, typically including:
- child maintenance issues;
- contact issues including the frequency and nature of contact;
- the purpose of contact – is contact to establish a parental relationship or is it so that the child has an awareness of their genetic background;
- living arrangements for the child;
- whether the biological father should have PR for the child;
- other issues relating to the upbringing of the child.
Even if a biological father is not a legal parent, he may still be able to apply for permission from the Court to commence court proceedings to apply for court orders in relation to the child.
As with all cases, litigation should be a last resort and it is normally required for the parties to attempt mediation before applying to the Court.