Particular issues arise for lesbian parents who separate, because the law on same-sex parenting has changed so much over the past 10 years, and because the dynamic always involves unequal biological status.
Arrangements for children
If living and contact arrangements cannot be agreed after separation, the family court will need to make a decision. Find out more about how the court deals with disputes about child arrangements.
Lesbian parents often want to know whether the fact that one partner is not a biological or legal parent will have a bearing on what a court might decide. This is always a difficult question to answer, as a great deal depends on the particular circumstances. Generally speaking, the court will look first at the child's welfare and if the child has an established attachment with a parent, the fact that the parent is not a biological/legal parent should be of little importance. However, in practice biology can be important. In the case of Re G (2006), the House of Lords overturned a ruling transferring care to a non-birth mother, saying that the birth mother's special connection with the children had not been given enough weight.
Dealing with the non-birth mother's status
Even if a separation is amicable, there may be legal issues to deal with in respect of the non-birth mother's status. If she is not a legal parent and/or does not have parental responsibility, it might be important to take steps to resolve this. Careful planning is key, since certain options may be lost following a separation or divorce/dissolution. Find out more about the legal status of non-birth mothers.
Issues of status are sometimes hotly contested. In Re G (2014), the Court of Appeal upheld an appeal by a non-birth mother who had been denied parental responsibility in a legal battle with her ex-partner. The court said that her care of the twin children and the fact that she was the biological mother (given that the children were conceived through an egg swapping arrangement) had not been given enough weight. In Re E and F (2013), a lesbian couple had conceived a child together at a UK fertility clinic, and the birth mother successfully argued that the non-birth mother was not a legal parent because the clinic had failed to follow the procedures correctly.
Financial responsibility and child maintenance
Child support issues depend purely on a parent's legal status. This can have unexpected outcomes in cases involving lesbian parents, since a non-birth mother who is not a legal parent might have no financial responsibility for her child following a separation. In the case of T v B (2010), the court decided that it had no power to order a non-birth mother to pay child support, even though the court had already awarded her shared care and parental responsibility. Find out more about financial provision for children.