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Understanding Co-parenting Legal Issues

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Co-parenting takes place where two or more adults decide to conceive and parent a child together outside the formalities of a marriage or a legally recognised civil relationship. It means that a co-parent may or may not have a biological link to the child but is responsible for raising the child and taking a full parental role.

Co-parenting used to be the preferred and popular option for lesbian and gay men to have children but has now extended to single people who wish to have children without entering into marriage, civil partnership or even co-habitation.

Co-parenting can involve significant legal complexities which should be properly considered before any commitments are made.

The Need for a Co-parenting Agreement

Ordinarily, a child is conceived with two biological parents and, under English law, a child can only have two legal parents. However, a co-parenting arrangement often involves more than two people resulting in issues which are best managed through a formal agreement.

The absence of a legally recognised relationship between the parents in a co-parenting arrangement also makes it important to have a co-parenting agreement in place to stipulate the roles and responsibilities of the parents.

Furthermore, English law is deeply rooted in legal parenthood which confers legal rights such as citizenship, tax, inheritance and state benefits. Defining a parent’s role and legal status is therefore important for the child as well as the parent.

Issues for Co-parenting Couples and Donors to Consider in a Co-parenting Agreement

Several issues arise from a co-parenting family structure. These issues include who should be named as the legal parents on the birth certificate, the residence of the child and the sharing formula for parenting time. Even the will and testament of the co-parent is important in deciding the child’s welfare.

The birth mother of a child is a legal parent except where this right is given up though adoption but the determination of the other parent is not so straightforward. Where conception is by artificial insemination to a married couple, the sperm donor who intends to be a co-parent must ensure that his right is protected since he will not otherwise be regarded as the legal father. Similarly, the donor to a mother in a civil partnership will not be regarded as the legal father. Sperm donors desiring parenthood should therefore take advice on the particular circumstances before any agreement is made.

Seeking protection of parental status extends to being named on the birth certificate as every person named on the child’s birth certificate is a legal parent. Legal parenthood confers parental responsibility on the donor and potentially his partner where he is in a civil partnership so these issues must be clearly understood and agreed beforehand to avoid future disputes.

The Nature of Family Agreements Under English Law

Under English family law, family agreements are usually non-binding on family courts as the welfare of the child is paramount. This further complicates the matters that may be dealt with in a co-parenting agreement as future disputes would be decided according to the circumstances. This means that unpredictable complications can manifest from the resulting relationship between the parents.


Prospective co-parents should seek legal advice before proceeding with co-parenting plans to best establish the stable foundations that children deserve. For more information please contact Jeetesh Patel via e- mail or by telephone on 0207 611 4848.

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