A guide for single dads building families

May 15, 2012

For single prospective dads, the decision between surrogacy, adoption and co-parenting is a tough one, with each option having its own benefits and pitfalls. First, ask yourself the question – what role do I want to have in my child’s life? To go it on your own or share the journey?  If you want to go it on your own, surrogacy or adoption are undoubtedly the best choices. If you want a shared role, co-parenting could be ideal.

UK law is not geared up to cater for all single would-be parents. For men, building your own biological family through surrogacy is difficult, given the need to find a woman to carry your child and the fact that the law may not operate in your favour. The law is more supportive on adoption, but forming a non-biological family requires patience and determination.

Surrogacy – establishing a surrogacy arrangement as a single parent is difficult. As intended (biological) parents are not treated as their child’s legal parents automatically, parents through surrogacy need to go through a specific legal process to achieve this status. This particular process, though, is only available to couples, effectively denying single parents the legal solution available to everyone else. Our previous government’s rationale for this (despite our attempts to persuade them otherwise) was that surrogacy is such a serious undertaking, only couples should be eligible.

This has the knock-on effect of making it almost impossible to join one of the UK’s surrogacy organisations as a single dad, since their first question to applicant members is whether they can resolve their status after birth. This essentially ousts all single parents.

So, finding a surrogate is challenging. Some single dads find a willing volunteer among their friends and family. Others go abroad, where the same restrictions don’t apply locally. This undoubtedly overcomes the initial hurdle of getting things off the ground, but it only gets you half way there. The anomaly in the law on surrogacy means that once your baby is born, the surrogate will automatically be treated as the legal mother. You will only be treated as the legal father if the surrogate is unmarried and even then, you are unlikely to have full parental status in the UK. If born abroad, your child may not be British.

There are various options for fully securing your legal status, and/or extinguishing that of your surrogate, but the law is complex and remains largely untested.

Co-parenting can be an effective way for single dads to have a family and share the load. But, it is naturally complicated, not in the set-up, but by virtue of the distinct influences each co-parent will have on your child.

The best arrangements are built on a strong foundation of openness and matched expectations – the primary cause of co-parenting turning sour is a lack of communication at the outset. The logistics of pregnancy, childbirth and breast feeding will, in the majority of arrangements, mean that your baby will live primarily with the birth mum (and her partner). It is important that this doesn’t lead to resentment.

The courts are beginning to show an appetite for recognising co-parent fathers in situations where things have gone wrong. The law remains muddled though and there are still improvements to be made.

Your legal status (and security) will depend on the circumstances of the birth mum, and whether she is in a relationship. Co-parenting arrangements often involve more than two parents but the law only recognises a child as having a maximum of two parents. This means that the law can override your status as a legal father, instead giving the status as ‘second parent’ to the birth mum’s partner

Adoption is another way of creating a family, with children much in need of a loving parent. This is a different experience to conceiving a family, with the inherent need to engage with the authorities before you can be matched with your child, the non-biological relationship you will have and the fact that your child may have particular needs and be older.

The law is much more up to date with respect to single parents hoping to adopt. Like everyone else, you will need to go through a rigorous assessment process and additionally be able to show that you are the whole package in one, in terms of meeting the needs of a child.

Adoption is possible for you within the UK and abroad, although you will need to ensure that the laws in your destination country are compatible. In advance of your match you will need to be approved as a prospective adopter. The process usually takes 6-8 months and involves attending preparation groups and working with a social worker who will perform background checks, seek references and do home visits before preparing a detailed prospective adopter’s report which will be presented to an adoption panel for their consideration. If successful, you will then begin the matching process either within the UK or abroad.

So, there are now more choices than ever for single dads to build their own families with or without sharing the responsibilities. It may not be straight forward but it is by no means impossible.

There is more information on our website about surrogacy for single dadsco-parenting as a father and adoption law services, or you can contact us for help or advice.

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