What is co-parenting?
Co-parenting usually involves between two and four adults who want to conceive and parent a child together. This could include:
- a lesbian couple and a single or gay man
- a single woman and a gay couple
- a lesbian and gay couple
A co-parent is different from a known donor as he or she will play a more involved parental role in the child’s life. A co-parent does not have to have a biological link with the child, making it a flexible family building option for single people and same-sex couples.
English law stipulates that a child can only have two legal parents. A co-parenting arrangement often involves more than two adults and it is important to get to grips with the legal status that each adult will have and who will be named as the parents on the child’s birth certificate.
The birth mother will always be legal mother of the child.
Who will be the child’s second legal parent can raise more complex legal issues and relevant factors include whether the birth mother is single or in a civil partnership and whether conception takes place at a UK licensed fertility clinic or by private arrangement at home or abroad. It is equally important to understand what legal status and responsibilities the remaining adults will have (in the absence of being legal parents) and any further legal steps that are needed to achieve this.
The acquisition of parental responsibility for a child is one way of conferring legal status upon an adult in a co-parenting situation. Parental responsibility gives the right to make or share the decision making process for a child’s upbringing. For example, consent to medical treatment, immunisations or apply for a school place. Parental responsibility is different from legal parenthood, since legal parenthood dictates financial responsibility for a child, citizenship and inheritance rights under English law.
More than two adults can hold parental responsibility for a child in a co-parenting arrangement. It is possible to acquire legal parenthood and parental responsibility for a child, one or the other or neither.
Parental responsibility can be obtained by agreement or court application (or by being named as parent on the child’s birth certificate in certain circumstances), making it a flexible legal tool in co-parenting arrangements.
Care, upbringing and residence
A shared residence order in a co-parenting arrangement can help to formalise arrangements for the care and residence of a child. A residence order (shared or otherwise) will confer parental responsibility upon the relevant adult/s, although it is not always necessary or desirable.
Prospective co-parents should decide and agree from the outset how they intend to care for their child and how they will share parenting time. Arrangements will change and evolve over time, making an element of flexibility essential and co-parents will need to review and re-assess arrangements on a regular basis.
Why have a co-parenting agreement?
A well drafted co-parenting agreement is a key component of any co-parenting arrangement. If you are armed with one of these, it could save a lot of time and trouble. Whilst it is not one hundred percent binding in law, it could be of important evidential benefit if a dispute were to arise.
A well constructed co-parenting agreement will:
- clarify the relevant legal issues
- improve communication between co-parents
- confirm the legal status that each adult will have (or will subsequently acquire) for the child
- help manage expectations
- map out some ground rules covering day to day parenting arrangements
A co-parenting agreement should be drafted by a legal expert, entered into before or contemporaneously with conception and everyone should be independently advised.
Can problems arise?
Co-parenting arrangements can create complex legal issues and problems for a variety of different reasons, ranging from inadequate understanding and agreement at the outset through to the occurrence of life changing events during the child’s minority. The English family court has published a limited number of cases involving disputes between parents and co-parents. These cases are designed to provide help and guidance in what remains a rapidly evolving area of law. Click here to read more.
Do I need to a Will?
A co-parent, like any other parent, should make a Will stipulating what happens to their estate and to provide for their child.
Depending upon the basis of the co-parenting arrangement, co-parents may look to appoint legal guardians in their Will to care for their child in the event of their death. However, legal guardianship appointment can be complex in a co-parenting case, making it important to seek expert legal help and guidance.
How can we help?
- advise on the relevant legal issues associated with a co-parenting arrangement
- advise on the acquisition of legal status for prospective co-parents
- prepare a co-parenting agreement
- prepare specialist Wills for co-parents
- provide advice, guidance and legal representation if a dispute arises
If you would like to discuss your situation in more detail or you would like more information about co-parenting please contact us by email email@example.com or by telephone +44(0)207 222 1244.