Starting a family is a life changing decision
You may have taken the decision to use a surrogate, adopt a child, co-parent or receive assistance to conceive a child – with or without a gamete donor. If so, it is important that you understand the legalities involved in the process, so you can start your family with confidence.
Starting your family
Due to advances in societal attitudes, science and the law, there are now many more options for people wanting to build a family, whether that be for same-sex or opposite-sex couples, or as a single person.
If you are planning on adoption or are already in the process, our expert team will help you navigate the complexities of the adoption process. We appreciate how difficult the adoption process can be and are sensitive to those involved.
The legal effect of an adoption order is to permanently sever the legal ties between the child and the birth parents. Any court orders which existed before the making of an adoption order will be extinguished and the birth parents will become former parents. Adoption orders can be applied for in a variety of situations. For example, an agency adoption is where the child has been placed with you solely for the purpose of adoption. The child can be placed with you by a local authority or an adoption agency. With this application you usually have the full support of the local authority as you have been through the matching process before the child has been placed with you.
If you are a stepparent, a stepparent adoption will make your partner’s children your own. The legal process will remove parental responsibility from the absent parent.
A foster carer adoption is where the child has been placed with foster carers who now want to adopt the child.
You may be able to adopt a child if you’re aged 21 or over (there’s no upper age limit) and either:
- in a civil partnership
- an unmarried couple (same sex and opposite sex)
- the partner of the child’s parent
Applicants will undergo a process of assessment to check suitability to become an adoptive parent. Police and medical checks are carried out. You will also be asked to provide the names of three referees who will give you a personal reference.
There are different rules for private adoptions and adoptions of looked-after children. In many cases adoption is a straightforward process but in some cases it is necessary to take legal advice. For example, in a stepparent adoption the absent birth parent may object to the order. The court will consider all of the evidence and determine whether the adoption should go ahead.
Sometimes mistakes can be made by the agencies involved in the adoption process. These cases can be extremely complex and legal representation will be necessary to safeguard your position as a prospective adopter. Additional complications can arise when incomplete or incorrect information regarding the background of the child is provided by an adoption agency. Disputes can arise regarding the level of support required and how the cost of obtaining the necessary support is to be met.
Intended parents use surrogacy to start a family when they can't do so on their own. Surrogacy involves a woman carrying and giving birth to a baby for someone else, who could be either a couple or a single person. It is fraught with potential legal difficulties, so essential that you seek legal advice before embarking on the process, particularly if your surrogate is in another country.
We can help you as intended parents to plan for surrogacy and guide you through the formalities required to later apply for a parental order. Whether you are using a surrogate in the UK or abroad, you need to apply for a parental order after the birth of your child to give you legal parentage.
If you are using a UK fertility clinic, we can advise on the forms you will be asked to complete and write to the clinic to confirm that you have received legal advice. There are also many practical considerations that we can discuss with you and make you aware of potential pitfalls.
There is a period of uncertainty after the birth of your child, but before the granting of the relevant court order. We can advise you how best to deal with that phase, to ensure you can look after your child and make any necessary decisions for them.
You should make an application to the court for a parental order within six months of your child’s birth. There may be instances where, as intended parents, you do not meet the criteria for applying for a parental order. We can explore other legal avenues with you, to find the solution that best suits you and your family. This could include adoption, a child arrangements order or special guardianship order, depending on your circumstances.
We can also assist with the birth registration if your child is born in the UK, or British nationality and passport applications if your child is born abroad.
An important, but often overlooked consideration as intended parents, is having a will prepared for protection during the surrogacy process. Your child may not initially have automatic inheritance rights in the unexpected event of your death.
It is important that you consider your legal position if you are planning on having IVF (in vitro fertilisation) or IUI (intrauterine insemination) / artificial insemination treatment, particularly if using a gamete donor. Whilst there have been developments in the law, they have not kept pace with advances in fertility treatment and societal attitudes. In addition, there has been a significant increase in those undergoing treatment and a range of international options for intended parents. This can lead to the creation of unintended complex family structures and legal issues, with the intended outcome not being achieved. Getting legal advice at the planning stage of starting your family, whether by informal agreement or through a UK licenced clinic is vital.
Issues we can advise on to enable you achieve the intended outcome for you and your family:
- Storage of gametes and embryos when preserving fertility.
- UK fertility clinic forms.
- Legal parents, who are they and how to become one.
- Parental responsibility, who has it and how to get it.
- Known donor agreements.
- Insemination in a UK licenced clinic.
- Insemination at home.
- Co-parenting agreements.
- Pre-nuptial agreements to include what happens to a frozen embryo in the event of a marriage breakdown.
- Application of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) regulations.
We combine legal expertise with practical support that focuses on the wellbeing of your family throughout.
There may be occasions when things don’t go to plan. We work closely with specialist counsel and have the legal expertise to assist in finding a solution. We will guide you through the different pathways to reach a resolution, as well as being expert litigators should court proceedings be necessary.
Supporting you every step of the way
We know how hard it can be to navigate moments that are emotionally challenging and that is why we don’t just focus on the legal work. We make the wellbeing of you and your children a priority throughout and have partnered with other people we know and trust and who are as good in their fields as we are in ours.
Visit our support hub for information about coaching, wellbeing and support services.
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