Will you both be legal parents?
Whoever of you is the birth mother is the legal mother, and has legal parenthood status and parental responsibility. We refer to ‘birth’ rather than 'bio' mother, because English law provides that the woman who carries a child is the legal mother. If you swap your eggs so that one of you carries the other's biological child, whoever gives birth is the legal mother.
Whether the non-birth mother is the other legal 'parent' automatically depends on your particular circumstances and the age of your child. Changes to the law made by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008 created different rules for children conceived before and after 6 April 2009. If you are not both parents automatically, you can take steps to acquire legal parenthood and/or parental responsibility. Find out more about how the law applies to:
- Non-birth mothers of children conceived after 6 April 2009
- Non-birth mothers of children conceived before 6 April 2009
If your marital situation is complicated (for example if you are still married to or in a civil partnership with a former partner when you conceive), take special care. The parenthood rules can sometimes have unforeseen effects, such as giving parenthood to your ex-partner rather than your current partner.
Conceiving with a sperm bank donor
If you conceive with a sperm bank donor, he has no legal status as a parent.
Donors in the UK can legally donate to up to ten different families, with each family allowed to have any number of siblings. This means that your child is likely to have genetic half-siblings in other donor-conceived families.
If you conceive at a licensed clinic in the UK, you and your child have rights to access information held on the HFEA's Register of Information about your donor and any donor-conceived half siblings in other families. Find out more about donor information rights in the UK. If you conceive outside the UK, the same information rights do not apply.
Conceiving with a known donor or co-parent
If you conceive with a known donor or co-parent, whether at home or at a clinic, the law regarding the biological father's position is more fluid. Whether he is the legal father depends on your particular circumstances.
However, if there is a dispute between you, the family court always has the flexibility to recognise his position and any relationship he has with your child and to give him rights of contact (and possibly other rights as well, depending on your circumstances). Being clear at the outset about your intentions is very sensible, both to give you legal protection and to help avoid disputes from arising. If you are planning a known donation or co-parenting arrangement, consider putting in place a written preconception agreement.
How we can help
We are experts in representing lesbian couples. In 2008 we helped win legal changes enabling lesbian couples to be named on birth certificates together (see our campaigning page). We have many years of experience:
- Advising on family building advice
- Preparing preconception agreements
- Expert representation in donor dispute cases
- Acquiring legal status for non-birth mothers
- Help with relationship breakdown between lesbian parents.
Find out more about our donor conception law services and how we can help.