The law gives protected status to sperm donors, so that they cannot be held legally or financially responsible for any child conceived as a result of their donation. The rules apply only in certain defined circumstances which do not exclude the parenthood of all known sperm donors.
Donation through a licensed clinic
A sperm donor who registers with a UK clinic and donates his sperm to unknown recipients will not be the legal father of any child conceived. This means he is fully protected from legal, financial and inheritance claims.
The law is more complicated if a sperm donor donates via a clinic to someone he knows. He will not be the legal father if the couple he donates to are both legal parents (see our pages on parenthood for men using donor sperm and lesbian non-birth mothers). If there is no second legal parent, he might be the legal father; the position depends on the particular circumstances, including the paperwork signed at the clinic and what everyone intends about his role.
Conception at home
Different rules apply if conception takes place at home. A sperm donor is not the legal father if he donates by artificial insemination to a married or civilly partnered couple who are both legal parents (see our pages on parenthood for men using donor sperm and lesbian non-birth mothers). If there is no second legal parent, he is the legal father, irrespective of what the parents agree or what is recorded on the birth certificate.
A sperm donor who donates through sexual intercourse (sometimes called 'natural insemination') is always the legal father of any child conceived, irrespective of what the parents agree or what is recorded on the birth certificate. In M v F and H (2013), the family court held a sperm donor liable for child support and substantial legal costs after finding that the donor, who had met a married woman via a donor-matching website, had donated through sexual intercourse.
What is the significance of legal fatherhood?
A legal father is financially responsible for a child (if a claim is made), whether or not he is registered on the birth certificate and irrespective of what the parents agreed at the outset. He can also be recorded as the father on the birth certificate (if he and the mother agree) and this will give him parental responsibility, which means he will have the right to share decision-making with the mother. He also has the right to make applications to the court if there is a dispute.
A sperm donor who is not the legal father has no financial responsibility and cannot be recorded on the birth certificate. He can only make an application to the family court in respect of arrangements for the child (for example to give him rights of contact) if the court gives him permission. In the case of Re G and Re Z (2013) two sperm donors who were not legal fathers were given leave to make applications for contact with their biological children on the basis that they had, through previous contact, formed sufficient 'connection'. Find out more about legal status in known donation and co-parenting arrangements.