Co-Parenting | Read Time 8 Minutes.
What is co-parenting?
Co-parenting has a variety of definitions. Generally, co-parenting is when two people who were once together, but are no longer, continue to raise a child when the relationship ends.
For the LGBT community, the definition is slightly different. Co-parenting in this sense is when people agree to conceive and raise a child together, despite not necessarily being in a relationship. Interestingly, LGBT co-parenting families can involve two, three or even four people. This means the child will have 2 legal parents but could have an unlimited number of parental figures.
Because there are so many different co-parenting methods, the laws surrounding the process are detailed and highly complex. Furthermore, factors such as marital status and conception method will dictate the process. This article explains the co-parenting process and answers some popular questions that potential co-parents may have.
If you have any questions regarding the co-parenting process, you can contact our team on 020 3795 9020, and we will put you in touch with an experienced family solicitor.
Why is co-parenting a popular option for LGBT People?
For LGBT people in particular, the process of conception can be complicated and expensive. Surrogacy is a less common option in the UK (due to the laws involved). The adoption process involves a rigorous application procedure. Because of these factors, co-parenting can be a safe and easier method of parenting, where you can raise a child with someone you trust.
Co-parenting can also be an option for single LGBT people who are not in a relationship, yet wish to conceive a child naturally. Furthermore, most people who co-parent choose to do so with close friends, so this method of raising a child can be a comfortable, more personal option.
Some LGBT people believe that having a mother and a father are both important when raising a child. For example, two women in a relationship could co-parent with a man. This means they would have an equal influence on the child’s life, introducing both maternal and paternal figures.
Who can I co-parent with?
Most LGBT people will decide to co-parent with close friends or possibly ex-partners. However, it is also possible to co-parent with a stranger, through the use of an online advertising service. Whoever you choose to co-parent with, choosing someone you trust is the priority.
For LGBT people, there are generally 4 co-parenting models. These are:
- Two men in a relationship who co-parent with a woman
- Two women in a relationship who co-parent with a man
- Two same-sex couples who co-parent together
- Two single LGBT people who co-parent together
What is a co-parenting agreement?
A co-parenting agreement is a document drafted by all relevant co-parents and sometimes other family members or partners. Whatsmore, a lawyer usually looks it over to correctly account for everyone’s wishes and responsibilities.
A co-parenting agreement can clarify each person’s duties and responsibilities in areas such as:
- Living arrangements
- Health care
- Other general well-being responsibilities
Your co-parenting agreement can also document who the child’s legal parents are (which will also be on the child’s birth certificate).
The benefit of a co-parenting agreement is that the wishes and responsibilities of each parent will be in writing for future reference. Fortunately, this means that if you have to go to court for any reason further down the line, you have evidence of any initial agreements.
It’s important to note that a co-parenting agreement is not a legally binding document. However, if any issues arise down the line, it can be used as evidence in court.
How does the process work?
The laws that surround co-parenting are very complex.
Factors such as marital status, the conception method and how many people are involved in the co-parenting relationship all dictate how the process unfolds and who has legal parental responsibility.
It’s important to note here that the child’s birth mother will always automatically be a legal parent. This can only change if the child is adopted.
Two men in a same-sex relationship co-parenting with a WOman
If a single woman uses the sperm of a man in a same-sex relationship then the birth mother and the sperm-donor will become the child’s legal parents. The man’s partner (non-parent) will need to apply for parental responsibility. Furthermore, if the same-sex partners are unmarried, they can apply for a joint residence order, which will give the unrelated partner equal parental responsibility.
However, if the woman is married or in a civil partnership, then her partner will legally become the child’s parent. If the partner is not part of the co-parenting agreement, they can choose to not be named on the birth certificate. This means that the co-parent who donated the sperm will be “the donor” and will need to apply for parental responsibility.
Two WOmen in a same-sex relationship co-parenting with a man
The process of a man donating sperm to a same-sex female couple is slightly more complicated.
If the same-sex female couple is unmarried and the child is not conceived in a fertility clinic, then the birth mother and the sperm donor will become the child’s legal parents. However, the mother’s same-sex partner will need to apply for parental responsibility.
If the same-sex female couple is married or in a civil partnership, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008 states that the two women will become the child’s legal parents. In this case, the co-parent male who donated the sperm will not be a legal parent. He can still apply for parental responsibility.
If the child is conceived through IVF in a fertility clinic, then the three co-parenting adults will decide between them who the second legal parent will be, alongside the birth mother. All three parents can have parental responsibility.
two single people who want to co-parent
Individual LGBT people may co-parent with another single person if they want to have a child but, do not wish to be in a relationship with each other.
In this case, a gay man and a lesbian woman can come together to use IVF to conceive. Both parents will be registered as legal parents on the child’s birth certificate and share parental responsibility.
If either parent finds a new partner, you can agree on how much influence they will have in the child’s life. This person can also apply for parental responsibility if this is what you decide.
Two same-sex couples co-parenting together
In the UK, a child can legally only have two parents. So if two same-sex couples decide to co-parent together, you will need to carefully choose who will be the birth mother, and who will be the sperm donor. If the child is conceived at home, the sperm donor and the birth mother will be the legal parents.
Similarly to previous examples, if the chosen birth mother is married or in a civil partnership with her partner, then they will become the legal second parent, despite the other co-parent donating the sperm.
If the child is conceived in a fertility clinic, all adults will normally be able to choose who the second legal parent will be alongside the birth mother. The two parents who are not the child’s legal parents can apply for parental responsibility, however, they must meet certain criteria to do so. There is no limit on how many people can have parental responsibility for a child.
What is the position of the non-legal parent?
Co-parenting adults often find themselves with one (or more) parent who is not on the birth certificate. This means they are not a legal parent, as UK law dictates a child can only have 2 legal parents. As this parent is neither biologically related to the child nor has parental responsibility, he has no legal duties towards them until they apply for parental responsibility.
The non-legal parent(s) can apply to the court for a child arrangements order. Alternatively, they can sign a legal agreement that gives them parental responsibility. If you can’t agree between you who should have responsibility, you may want to consult with a lawyer or mediator.
What personal issues do i need to consider?
Disagreements between parents on raising the child
Such as education or living arrangements. When this happens you can look to your co-parenting agreement for guidance and can mediate amongst yourselves to solve any issues.
Difficulties during the conception process
This mainly refers to co-parenting partners who have used artificial insemination to conceive. The IVF process is a difficult process for LGBT people, especially as there is little to no funding from the NHS. You’ll need to carefully consider your conception route, and prepare for the journey ahead if you use IVF. Take a look at our article on same-sex parenting for more information on the IVF process.
If a co-parent starts a new relationship
Sometimes co-parents start new relationships that will affect your existing agreement. When this happens, you’ll need to decide between you how much input the new partner will have. It may be worth re-drafting your co-parenting agreement in this instance.
Structure for the child
In your co-parenting agreement, all parents will have an opportunity to create a structure for the child’s upbringing. You can cover finances, living arrangements, medical choices and education matters. Having multiple parents and parenting methods can be difficult for a child, so structure is really important. But if everyone’s duties are outlined correctly, you can avoid problems in the future.
What legal issues do i need to consider?
Issues with parental responsibility and parental rights
The process of obtaining legal parental responsibility for non-biological parents can be complex. The application comes with a court fee of £215 and also comes with select criteria which you’ll need to meet.
If someone breaks the co-parenting agreement
Your co-parenting agreement is not legally binding. However, if someone breaks the terms, resulting in you needing to take legal action, you can use the agreement as evidence in court.
If someone gets a divorce or dissolution
In the event of a relationship ending, you will need to agree on who will continue to care for the child. You can decide if you wish to continue with your current arrangement or amend your co-parenting agreement.
If a parent dies
If you are a non-legal parent in a co-parenting agreement, your child will not automatically inherit from you when you pass away. It’s important to discuss inheritance wishes with your co-parenting partner(s) and have these expressed in your will.
Why might I need a lawyer?
For LGBT people who enter into a co-parenting agreement, there may be times when you will need legal advice.
In the beginning stages, you may need a lawyer to look over your co-parenting agreement. Furthermore, they will ensure that all necessary information is documented and that all relevant parties agree on the contents.
If legal issues arise in the future regarding divorce, breaking the terms of the agreement or problems with parental responsibility, you’ll need to have a lawyer on your side.
LGBT Lawyers can connect you with an experienced family lawyer when you encounter co-parenting issues. Most importantly, your lawyer will look at your case objectively and will make sure that you get the best possible outcome for you and your child.