Co-parenting agreements

By Olivia Piercy and Anne-Marie Hutchinson of Dawson Cornwell Solicitors

There are all sorts of compelling reasons to co-parent with friends as opposed to using an unknown sperm donor. You may wish your child to understand their genetic origins and have a relationship with their father. Co-parenting can also lend the added benefits of emotional and financial support. Such arrangements can be made between single people, or between two couples, or indeed, any combination of individuals who choose to start a family together.

Theoretically, the more loving parents/carers a child has, the better. However, such arrangements are complicated, and, in the absence of careful planning, can so easily fracture.Fromtheoutset,theparents are, essentially, orchestrating a situation akin to that of separated or divorced parents. The difference for co-parenting friends is that the arrangements are made against a backdrop of optimism and bonhomie, as opposed to bitterness and broken hearts.

The experts agree that it is infinitely more sensible to co-parent with friends than with someone that you found
on Gumtree. Many choose private arrangements whereby a member of the non-birth mother’s family donates sperm. However, it is important to consider complications that may arise when, say, an uncle is also a father.

If you are planning to have a baby with a person or people that you know, or if you are entering into a marriage or civil partnership in which one of you already has children, it is prudent to draw up a co-parenting agreement first. If things go wrong, that agreement may later be relied upon as evidencing intention. It is also a useful guide to return to when you hit the inevitable bumps in the road.

Some things to bear in mind: co- parenting agreements are not legally enforceable and, as such, they require a great deal of trust. A child can only have two legal parents. The identity of the legal parents will be determined by the relationship status of the birth mother and the way in which the child was conceived. It is important to think carefully about who the legal parents should be, because in the event that your agreement unravels, the financial implications can be onerous.

If you conceive your child through a registered sperm donation (at a licenced IVF facility clinic in the UK)
and the biological father is not a legal parent, the biological father cannot later be compelled to bear financial responsibility for the child. This reality is unmitigated by his later acquisition of parental responsibility or promise to provide – there is nothing to stop him from leaving you without support. Equally, if you enter a marriage or civil partnership with someone who already has a child, you can later be ordered to pay maintenance and capital for that child throughout the child’s minority by virtue of that child being a child of the family.

Finances aside, there are many issues to consider before taking the plunge. Firstly, who will have parental responsibility (‘PR’)? Anyone with PR has a right to be involved in all major decisions regarding the child’s health,

religion, education etcetera. It is a helpful way of establishing someone’s parental role in your child’s life. But the decision needs to be taken carefully:
if someone has PR, you cannot simply override their objections to, say, your choice of nursery school; indeed in the absence of agreement, such issues may necessarily be resolved at court. Therefore, whilst it’s nice to make everyone feel included, it is possible for there to be too many cooks. If the birth mother is in a civil partnership at the time of birth, her partner will automatically have PR. If it’s agreed that other parties should acquire PR, this can be achieved by applying to court for a shared residence order, after the birth.

Although co-parenting agreements are not technically enforceable, the court will treat them as evidencing intention. They will hold significantly more weight if created following independent legal advice. Ultimately, the court will make orders for contact, residence and other specific issues, based on a child’s best interests, rather than the contents of a co-parenting agreement. Such agreements provide invaluable guidance in helping parents to overcome disputes amongst themselves.

Dawson Cornwell

This user friendly divorce and family law firm has a team of lawyers who are widely acknowledged as experts in the legal issues surrounding the creation of families by alternative means.  They advise and represent couples and single parents, in the UK and internationally. Their knowledge and experience cover all areas of law arising from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008 including international and domestic surrogacy, donor conception, LGBT parenting and co-parenting as well as domestic and international adoption.