Fertility Law

If you are thinking about conceiving a child through assisted reproduction, it is important to consider the legal issues.  The law can be complex (and not always logical) so if you are starting a family in a non-traditional way, make sure that you understand:

  • who will be your child’s legal parents and who will be recorded on your child’s birth certificate,
  • who will have parental responsibility (the right to be involved in day-to-day decision making about your child’s care while they are under 18),
  • if you are conceiving at a clinic, how the law governs your fertility treatment and affects your rights to information, and
  • if you are conceiving with a known donor, how to manage relationships and expectations carefully to avoid problems, knowing where you would stand if there was a dispute between you.

The information on our fertility law pages has been designed to help you understand the basics of the law, and was written especially for Pride Angel by leading fertility law expert Natalie Gamble at law firm NGA Law.  It is not an exhaustive statement of the law nor designed to be a substitute for legal advice on your own particular circumstances.  For legal advice, we would recommend you contact NGA Law [www.nataliegambleassociates.co.uk] at hello@ngalaw.co.uk or on 020 3701 5915.

UK fertility law was designed to help those conceiving with an egg or sperm donor provided by a UK licensed clinic. This makes the legal issues clear cut.

The donor will have no legal rights or responsibilities as a parent and, since they will be unknown to you, there is no fear in practice of unwanted involvement in your child’s upbringing. 

The rigorous regulatory framework of licensed treatment in the UK also means that donors will have been fully screened and tested by medical professionals (and in the case of donor sperm quarantined).

If you conceive at a clinic in the UK, details of your treatment and any child you conceive will be held on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority’s Register of Information.  While donors are anonymous to you as recipients, your child will have rights to access the information kept on the Register as he or she grows up.  Your child will be able to access certain information about your donor, including the donor’s name and address once he/she reaches the age of 18.  Your child may also be able to use the Register to get in touch with any genetic half siblings conceived by other families once he or she is 18.  It is important to understand how these rules work, so that you know where you stand and can communicate effectively with your child as he or she is growing up.

For more detailed information, visit Natalie Gamble Associates' pages on donor conception law.

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If you donate your eggs or sperm to unknown recipients through a licensed clinic in the UK, you will not be treated as a legal parent of any children conceived from your donation, and will have no legal or financial responsibility.

Your details will be recorded on the Register of Information held at the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, and your offspring will have legal rights to access that information as they grow up, including being able to find out your name and address once they are 18 (which they can use to contact you if they wish).

There are legal limits on how many children can be born from your donation, and on how your eggs or sperm can be used.

For more detailed information, visit Natalie Gamble Associates' pages on the law for egg and sperm donors.

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If you are conceiving with a known egg donor, then the woman who carries the child – and not the biological mother – is the child’s legal mother for all purposes.

If you are conceiving with a known sperm donor, you need to take extra care as the law is often very complex, and can be black and white in the way it works.  This can often, for example, lead to a known sperm donor being treated in law as your child’s legal father and having financial responsibility (unless you and your partner are married or civil partners or you conceive through a licensed HFEA clinic).

There are a number of reasons why people choose to conceive with a known donor.   Typically (although not always) those entering into known donation arrangements plan to have a degree of involvement with their donor after their child is born, although this is usually restricted to a limited role (for example with a donor acting as an uncle figure).  If you are planning a more equal parenting role with your donor, see the section on co-parenting.

Your legal position as your child’s parent/s depends on your personal situation:

  • If you are a married couple or lesbian civil partners (at the time you conceive) then you will normally both be treated as your child’s legal parents and can both be named on the birth certificate (either as mother and father, or as mother and parent).  This will legally exclude your sperm donor’s legal status as the father.  
  • If you are an unmarried heterosexual or non civil partnered lesbian couple (at the time you conceive) then your sperm donor’s status will depend on how you conceive.  If you conceive with a known donor at a licensed clinic in the UK, you can choose for the mother’s partner to be treated as your child’s second parent.  This means that your donor will not be your child’s legal father.  If you conceive through home insemination then your known sperm donor will be your child’s legal father.  If you then want to acquire status for the non-birth mother or the non-biological father you will need to go through a court process to acquire adoptive or other rights.
  • If you are a single woman conceiving with a known sperm donor at a licensed clinic in the UK, it may be possible to establish that your donor should be treated in the same way as any other clinic sperm donor (although his status is not necessarily excluded automatically just because you conceive at a clinic).  If you conceive through home insemination, your donor will be your child’s legal father.

A lot of confusion arises over birth certificates.  Choosing to name a known donor on the birth certificate is legally significant, since it gives him ‘parental responsibility’ (the authority to be involved in important parental decisions).  However, even if a donor is not named on the birth certificate, then he may still be your child’s legal father and may still be financially responsible for your child.

A donor agreement may to help manage the legal issues associated with known sperm donation.  While a donor agreement is not strictly legally binding, the process of putting an agreement in place can be helpful in managing everyone’s expectations and may be of evidential benefit to a court dealing with any dispute. 

The law on known sperm donation is complicated and it is important that you understand how the following questions would be answered in your particular situation:

  • Who will be treated as your child’s legal parents?
  • What should be recorded on your child’s birth certificate?
  • Should you put in place a donor agreement?
  • How can you best manage your relationship over time so as to avoid difficulties arising?

For more information, visit Natalie Gamble Associates' pages on donor conception law.

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If you are a known egg donor then you will not be treated as your child’s legal mother under English law, since the law says that the woman who carries a child is his or her legal mother. 

If your recipients conceive in the UK, your details will be recorded on the Register of Information held at the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority.  Your offspring will have legal rights to access that information as they grow up, including being able to find out your name and address once they are 18 (if their parents have not shared information about their genetic origins with them).

If you are a known sperm donor, the law is more complicated.  Whether or not you are treated as your child’s legal father will depend on the relationship status of your recipients, as well as whether you conceive at a clinic or at home.  See the notes for parents within the Using Known Donors section for further detail on the different possible scenarios.

If you are treated as your child’s legal father then, whether or not you are named on the birth certificate, you will be financially responsible for your child and could be pursued for maintenance and other financial provision.  Your child will also have a right of inheritance from you in the event of your death (although this may be excluded by a carefully drafted Will). 

Whether you are named on the birth certificate is also significant, since if you are your child’s legal father and are named on the birth certificate, you will acquire ‘parental responsibility’ which gives you the right to be involved in important decision making about your child’s upbringing.

You may wish to consider putting in place a donor agreement to help manage the legal issues.  While a donor agreement is not strictly legally binding the process of putting an agreement in place can be helpful in managing everyone’s expectations and may also be of evidential benefit to a court dealing with any dispute. 

The law on known sperm donation is complicated and it is well worth checking you understand how the following questions would be answered in your particular situation:

  • Will you be your child’s legal parent?
  • Will you be named on the birth certificate (and do you understand the significance of this in legal terms)
  • Will you be financially responsible for your child?
  • Who will inherit your assets in the event of your death?
  • Should you put in place a donor agreement?
  • How can you best manage your relationship over time so as to avoid difficulties arising?

For more detailed information, visit Natalie Gamble Associates' pages on the law for egg and sperm donors.

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Co-parenting arrangements typically involve two, three or four parents, all sharing responsibility for their child’s upbringing, even though they are not in a relationship with each other. 

If you are a gay or single man wishing to become a father, this can give you a more significant parental role than if you act as a known donor.  If you are a lesbian couple or a single woman, co-parenting can give your child an involved father. 

The first question is always who will be treated as your child’s legal parents.  If the carrying mother is in a civil partnership, her partner will automatically be the child’s second legal parent in most cases, excluding the parenthood status of the other co-parents.  If the carrying mother is not in a civil partnership, then she may be able to choose which other co-parent is named on the birth certificate with her and becomes a full legal parent (although this depends on the place and circumstances of conception).

Various steps can be taken to obtain recognition for the other co-parents, including limited parental responsibility and guardianship rights in the event of death.  In some situations, co-parents can be given status privately by signing documentation.  In others, an application to court may be necessary.

Putting in place a co-parenting agreement is usually a good idea.  With more adults involved in a child’s upbringing it is important to be clear on issues of legal parenthood and what roles and financial responsibilities everyone will have.  While a co-parenting agreement is not strictly legally binding and a court would be free to act in a child’s best interest if a dispute arose between you, the process of putting an agreement in place can be helpful in managing everyone’s expectations.  A legal document would also be taken into account by a court hearing any dispute, and would be likely to be given weight if reasonable in its terms, properly drafted and prepared following independent legal advice. 

For more information, visit Natalie Gamble Associates' pages on donor conception and co-parenting law.

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Surrogacy arrangements are sometimes entered into by heterosexual couples struggling to conceive, and by gay men wishing to become parents independently rather than through co-parenting. 

The law in the UK has recently been updated to allow surrogacy for gay men.

Surrogacy is permitted in the UK, but it operates in a restricted environment.  It is, for example, illegal to advertise that you are looking for a surrogate mother and it is illegal for commercial bodies to broker surrogacy arrangements.  Most UK surrogacy arrangements therefore involve either a friend or family member, or a surrogate mother found through one of the UK’s legal non-profit making surrogacy agencies.  Others go abroad for surrogacy, although it is important to be aware that the legal issues associated with international surrogacy can be incredibly complex and it is critical to get specialist legal advice before embarking on an international arrangement.

Under English law, the surrogate mother is always treated as the legal mother of a surrogate born child at birth.  The rules on who is treated as the child’s other parent are complicated and depend on the surrogate’s marital status and the circumstances. 

The intended parents must then apply to court after their child is born to become his or her legal parents.  The process of applying for a parental order takes a number of months, and there are strict criteria which the parents applying for the order must meet (including that at least one is a biological parent, that they are a couple, that they apply within six months of the birth, that they have not paid more than reasonable expenses and that they have sufficient links with the UK).

For more information, visit Natalie Gamble associates' pages on surrogacy law.

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Conceiving a child is just the start of your journey; becoming a parent is a challenge which will be with you for the rest of your life.  

Families created through fertility treatment or in alternative family structures often have uniquely complex dynamics and issues to contend with.

Your child may, for example, want to find out more about his or her donor and you may want to know what your legal rights are, perhaps also in respect of older children conceived under different legal regimes. 

If you are co-parenting or have a child conceived with a known donor (or are a known donor yourself) unforeseen difficulties may arise between you and you may wish to explore where you stand legally.

If your relationship breaks down or someone dies unexpectedly, you may want to understand what your (or your ex-partner’s) legal position is in respect of your children and what rights you have.

For more information on all aspects of parenting law for alternative families, visit Natalie Gamble Assiciates' pages on parenting and children law.

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Fertility treatment in the UK is regulated and licensed by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority and by the law. 

The HFEA and the law ensures that appropriate safety and quality standards apply at all licensed centres across the UK, and regulates what treatments may be carried out in what circumstances.  For example, the HFEA regulates issues such as the maximum and minimum ages of donors and patients, the importing and exporting of embryos and gametes, and the storage of eggs, sperm and embryos in the UK.

For more information, visit Natalie Gamble Assiciates' pages on fertility treatment law.

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As part of our commitment to keeping you safe, Pride Angel has long worked with Natalie Gamble Associates, the UK’s leading fertility law firm.

We are now the only connection site in the UK to offer a donor and co-parenting agreement template (also called a pre conception agreement) to help you formalise your arrangement once you have made a match. 

How will the template help you?

The template guides you on talking through the right things at the outset in order to avoid future problems, which you can then document within the agreement. The template agreement is drafted and kept up to date by Natalie Gamble Associates who have extensive experience helping to set up known donation arrangements successfully (as well as managing disputes when things go wrong). 

How to get further legal advice?

Since no pre conception agreement is legally binding under UK law, Natalie Gamble Associates also provides bespoke legal advice to help those going into known donation arrangements to understand their legal position and how best to protect it. They can answer questions like who will be financially responsible, who can go on the birth certificate, who has parental responsibility and, if there is a problem, how the family court will deal with it. Natalie Gamble Associates works with parents, co-parents and donors (although can only advise one party in any particular arrangement). 

What  will it cost?

Natalie Gamble Associates offers a range of fixed fees so that you can choose what is best for you and your circumstances : 

  • Template pre conception agreement £ 250 +VAT (a 9 page document for you to flesh out, with guidance notes)
  • Pre conception legal review £1000 +VAT (providing specific legal advice on your situation, following which you can choose to prepare your own agreement, purchase the template or have a bespoke agreement prepared)
  • Pre conception legal review and bespoke agreement £2000 +VAT (an agreement prepared from scratch by a solicitor for your particular circumstances, following detailed legal advice)
How do you book an appointment or get a template agreement? 

If you would like to arrange purchase a template agreement or arrange a meeting with a solicitor at Natalie Gamble Associates, you can telephone 0844 357 1602 or email hello@nataliegambleassociates.com

For further information, take a look at www.nataliegambleassociates.com

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Sociologist talks about legal cases involving donor conception

Professor Carol Smart, from the University of Manchester, discusses recent court cases involving lesbian couples who have conceived using sperm from known donors. What judgements are being made and what can we learn from social science research into the experiences of families of donor-conceived children? 

Carol Smart is Professor of Sociology at the Morgan Centre, University of Manchester. This video is based on recent court cases and Professor Smart's research project 'Relative Strangers' (with Dr Petra Nordqvist). 

 

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