How can we protect our rights as a lesbian couple conceiving at home with a known sperm donor?

There are various different ways to conceive a family as a lesbian couple, but one which often prompts questions about the law is home insemination with a known sperm donor. We have put this Q&A together to answer some of the most common questions we are asked.

“I am the birth mother – what rights will I have if we conceive through artificial insemination at home?”

Under UK law, a child’s legal mother is the woman who carries and gives birth – this is the case regardless of how you have chosen to conceive. As the legal mother of your child, you will have the right to be recorded on your child’s birth certificate, will have parental responsibility (the legal rights and responsibilities to make a decision on behalf of your child), financial responsibility and status rights.

“We are married or in a civil partnership. What legal rights will my partner have if we conceive through home insemination?”

If you are married or in a civil partnership at the time of conception, then the non-birth mother will be your child’s other legal parent, provided that you conceive through artificial insemination and you both consent to the conception. The non-birth mother will be registered as the other legal parent on your child’s UK birth certificate, and will have all the same rights and responsibilities as the birth mother.

“We aren’t married. Can my partner go on the birth certificate?”

No. If you conceive through home insemination, then the non-birth mother can only be registered on the birth certificate if you are married or in a civil partnership at the date you conceive. If you aren’t married (or if you marry during the pregnancy), then she will not be a legal parent and can’t be registered on your child’s birth certificate.

You have a few options if you both want to be legal parents. You could marry or register a civil partnership before you conceive. You could opt to conceive at a fertility clinic in the UK (which gives you the chance to nominate your partner to be the other legal parent via certain clinic forms if you are not married). Finally, you could apply for step-parent adoption after your child is born to make the non-birth mother your child’s other legal parent – this will ultimately put you in the same legal position as if you were both on the birth certificate and gives you an adoption certificate which records that you are both your child’s legal parents.

“What rights will our sperm donor have?”

If you are both legal parents your donor will not be your child’s legal father and won’t have parental or financial responsibility for your child. However, that does not mean that he could not make an application to the family court for rights of contact if he is involved with your child and there is a dispute between you at a later stage.

Although it may feel as though your position is secure if you are both registered on the birth certificate, it is always important to set strong foundations when working with a known donor so that you are all on the same page when it comes to one another’s roles and responsibilities. Disputes in known donation cases most commonly arise where there are mismatched expectations between the parents and the donor. There have been a couple of cases now before the Family Court in which known donors have applied for ‘contact’ with their biological child (and succeeded), and it is important to set things up in the best possible way to avoid this scenario if it isn’t your intention.

If the non-birth mother is a not a legal parent, then your donor will be your child’s legal father. You do not have to register him on the birth certificate (and doing so will have significant implications as it will give him shared parental responsibility, and mean his formal consent is needed to any adoption application). He will also have rights to apply to the family court for rights of contact if there is a dispute between you at a later stage.

“Will a donor agreement be legally binding?”

If there is a dispute between you and your donor, the Family Court always has the right to decide what is in your child’s best interests. That means that any donor agreement you sign is not legally binding.

However, that doesn’t mean there is no point putting a donor agreement in place. A written pre-conception agreement is a really sensible way of getting any issues out on the table and completely understanding everyone’s expectations. It helps you set strong foundations so that you can avoid a dispute from arising in the first place.

“Can you help us with this?”

We provide legal advice to help parents understand all the legal issues involved when conceiving with a known donor. We typically offer a donor conception planning service to advise on your specific plans, legal parenthood and what you should be discussing with your donor. We can also help you with putting a pre-conception agreement in place, and we can help with any adoption application you need to make.

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