Using Known Donors

Known sperm donation:  for parents

There are a number of reasons why parents choose to conceive with a known sperm donor.   Some want to have control over their choice of donor, but don’t expect the donor to have involvement with their child after the birth; others want a donor who will play a role in the child’s life of some kind, even if it is not a full parental role.  See the separate section on co-parenting for situations where the father is intended to be fully recognised as a father and involved in the child’s upbringing.

It is very important, if you are conceiving with a known donor, that you set strong foundations to avoid disputes later, and that everyone is clear and agrees about how your arrangement will work.  See the sections on disputes and problems [link to section below] and donor agreements [link to section below] for more information.

It is important to understand everyone’s legal status, which varies from case to case.  Who your child’s legal parents are depends, not on what everyone intends, but on your personal situation and how your child is conceived.  It is also important to understand who will have ‘parental responsibility’ i.e. the right to be involved in decision making for your child while he or she is under 18.

Birth mothers

The birth mother is always your child’s legal mother and always has parental responsibility (even if she is not the biological mother, for example if you are egg-swapping or using an egg donor).

Married couples and civil partners

If she is married or in a civil partnership at the time of conception, then her spouse (rather than your sperm donor) will be your child’s legal father or ‘second legal parent’.  That is the case provided that the spouse consented to the conception and your child was conceived by artificial insemination (whether at a clinic or at home). 

He or she will then automatically have parental responsibility for your child, shared with the birth mother.  He or she will also automatically be recorded as the other parent on your child’s birth certificate.

Unmarried couples

If the birth mother is not married or in a civil partnership at the time of conception, then who the legal parents are depends on how you conceive.

If you conceive at a licensed clinic in the UK, you can choose to nominate the other intended parent as your child’s father/ second legal parent.  There is a process to go through at your clinic (including counselling and the correct completion of a set of forms) which must be completed absolutely correctly before conception.  The father/parent can be registered on your child’s birth certificate if he/she attends the birth registration, and will then share parental responsibility for your child with the birth mother.

If you conceive through home insemination, then your known sperm donor will be your child’s legal father.  If the non-birth mother (or the non-biological father) wants to become your child’s legal parent instead, you will need to go through a court process to acquire adoptive or other rights.

Single women

If you are a single woman conceiving with a known sperm donor at a licensed clinic in the UK, the law is grey.  It may be possible to establish that your donor should be treated in the same way as any other clinic sperm donor (without any legal rights or responsibilities), or the donor may be treated as your child’s legal father.

If you are a single woman conceiving through home insemination, your donor will be your child’s legal father.

Birth certificates and parental responsibility

The birth mother is always recorded on the birth certificate.  Her partner can be recorded as the other parent if he or she is your child’s legal parent (and he/she will then share parental responsibility with the birth mother).

A donor can only be registered on the birth certificate if he is your child’s legal father.  However, choosing to name your known donor on the birth certificate is legally significant, since it gives him ‘parental responsibility’. 

For more detailed information, visit NGA Law’s free and searchable online Knowledge Centre

Page last reviewed: 15/07/2017