What is legal parenthood and how is it affected if I use donor sperm?

Isabelle James
baby hand in mothers hand

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This issue was in the news recently, when a married Oklahoma same-sex couple were in court over a dispute about the legal parenthood of their son. He had been conceived through at-home insemination with donor sperm from an individual known to the couple.

Sadly, when their son was two, the couple separated and court proceedings were issued to deal with the child arrangements. The Judgment was recently handed down and named the sperm donor as the child’s second legal parent, the other legal parent being the partner who had given birth. The second female partner, therefore, lost custody, with the Judge commenting that an application for adoption should have been made to avoid this outcome.

Although this was a US case and so different rules and regulations apply, it is important if you are considering at-home insemination with a known donor to obtain advice about who will have legal parenthood, and parental responsibility, for your child when they are born.

Legal parenthood has an impact on financial responsibilities towards a child and inheritance provisions. Parental responsibility enables the person to make all the important daily decisions. It is therefore important to know at an early stage whether you will automatically have legal parenthood and parental responsibility, or, if not, what steps you will need to take to obtain this.

Under the current law, the person who gives birth will automatically be the child’s legal mother and will have parental responsibility. For same-sex female couples, who will be the second legal parent will depend on where the fertility treatment took place (whether at a licensed clinic or not) and the relationship status of the couple. The law in this area is governed by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008.

A child can have no more than two legal parents in UK law, although more than two people can have parental responsibility.

If you have questions about these issues or may need help in drawing up an agreement with a known sperm donor, contact one of our specialist lawyers.

Read our blog Legal Considerations in the Surrogacy Process

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