Strangers making babies, an intriguing new show, recently started on Channel 4, shining a spotlight on the concept of platonic co-parenting.
With apparently 70,000 people in the UK currently advertising online to be co-parents (some simply on a Facebook group), the show follows a group of single, would-be parents looking for a platonic partner to have a baby.
Unlike surrogacy, which has soared in popularity in the last few years, partly thanks to celebrities such as Elton John and Kim Kardashian West, platonic co-parenting remains little understood and less spoken about.
However, what it does share with surrogacy is a complexity in the law and the potentially complicated process of both parties become legal parents.
What is co-parenting?
Co-parenting is defined as parents raising a child or children together who are not or have not been in a romantic relationship.
People choose to co-parent for various reasons, and co-parenting can work for individuals and couples.
For example, a gay couple may choose to co-parent with a lesbian couple, or two heterosexual friends may choose to co-parent.
Things to think about when considering co-parenting
Before embarking on co-parenting, it is important to consider who you want to co-parent with and how your relationship as parents will work.
You also need to be clear about your expectations, shared values and approaches to parenting, and practical considerations.
One of the most important considerations is how the baby will be conceived and carried, and you need to think about,
- Undertaking health and fertility checks
- The method of conception, for example, will you use a home insemination method or a fertility clinic for artificial insemination or IVF
- Who will be recognised as the child’s legal parent and have parental responsibility for the child
A co-parenting agreement
Once you’ve decided to go ahead and start your family, you may wish to enter into a pre-conception or co-parenting agreement which a lawyer and/or a mediator can assist with.
This agreement is designed to record your intentions as co-parents and create a framework outlining both parties expectations and can include:
- Who will attend antenatal appointments and the birth
- Choosing the child’s name
- How you explain to the child their life story
- Your views on health, for example, opinions on vaccinations
- Your approach and views on education, including how you wish to choose a school, private fees and involvement with the school concerning parents evening, school reports and attendance at events
- Agreements around childcare, such as using the services of a childminder, nanny or nursery
- Your approach and view’s on managing challenging behaviour
- Whether your child will be encouraged to follow a religion
- The time that the child will spend with each co-parent including for special events such as their birthday, Christmas and school holidays.
- Financial support for the child, including any maintenance that may be paid, life insurance and financial provision in the event of your death.
These agreements, however, are not legally binding. Since they cannot be enforced by UK law, the co-parents must rely on trust. This can leave people concerned about what might happen in the event of a disagreement or other conflicts further down the line.
Who will be the legal parent?
The woman who carries the child will be automatically recognised as the child’s legal parent and detailed on the birth certificate in all circumstances of conception.
If you are co-parenting, it is important to consider who will be recognised as the second legal parent on the child’s birth certificate and granted parental responsibility.
However, who can be recognised as a parent will depend on the circumstances and the family’s makeup.
One male and one female co-parenting
If a single female wishes to co-parent with a man, then he can be the child’s legal parent by being registered on the child’s birth certificate, either at the time of the child’s registration (and he will need to be present for this) or through a Statutory Declaration of Parentage or Court Order.
If you wish to conceive the child using a registered sperm donation clinic, you will need to consent to his legal parenthood before treatment begins, and a clinic may refer to this as a “known sperm donation”.
It is recommended that you use a clinic for this reason. If you proceed with artificial insemination at home, then you are trusting the mother to agree to register the father at birth.
Couples who co-parent with a third parent or another couple
As the law only allows two parents on a birth certificate, if you are looking to co-parent with more than two parents, you need to consider further arrangements to grant parental responsibility for the child through a Parental Responsibility Agreement.
For example, if a single female and a gay couple who are married or in a civil partnership agree to co-parent, only one of the men can be registered on the birth certificate as a legal parent alongside the mother. In these circumstances, a third person can be granted Parental Responsibility as a step-parent of the child or by way of Court Order.
This means that while they are not legally defined as a parent on the birth certificate, they have an equal say to the legal parents on the key decisions regarding the child’s upbringing.
Find out how to apply for a Parental Responsibility Agreement.
What if we disagree?
Meaningful discussions before entering into a co-parenting agreement will hopefully prevent disagreements in the future, but if a disagreement arises regarding the care of your child, you may wish to attend mediation to discuss matters.
Alternatively, your lawyer can forward proposals and negotiate on your behalf. Whichever method you choose, the key to an amicable agreement is good communication and realistic expectations.
Solicitors can discuss further options such as a roundtable meeting where both lawyers and clients are present or arbitration.
If agreements cannot be reached for whatever reason, an application to Court may be advisable. The application may be for a Specific Issue Order, for example, if you disagree over a choice of schools, a Prohibited Steps (which prevents a parent from doing something), Parental Responsibility or a Child Arrangements Order which sets out how much time a child spends with each child.
Get in touch
If you would like any advice on platonic co-parenting or other family law issues, please contact our Client Care Team to speak to one of our specialist lawyers here.