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Trials and Treatments

Fertility law issues are a growing area of legal practice as more families choose to embark on alternative ways of having children.

The different fertility law issues are:


Coparenting is a relatively new practice which involves two, three or four parents who wish to have a child together. Each parent shares the responsibility for their child’s upbringing. It means that gay or single men who wish to become fathers can serve more of a parental role than if they had just acted as known donors. It is also an option for lesbian couples or single women, who wish to have a father figure in their child’s life.

Legal Rights

One of the most important factors to consider when choosing co-parenting is who the legal parent is of the child. The birth mother will always be listed as one of the child’s legal parents, however the second parent can vary depending on whether the mother is single or in a civil partnership. For the other co-parents there are various measures that can be put in place to acquire more rights, including guardianship rights in the case of death.

It is wise to come up with a co-parenting agreement before the child is born so that all parties know what to expect and where they stand with regards to their legal rights with their child. It is wise to consult a solicitor before doing this.

Donor Conception

There are a specific set of rules which come into play regarding the parents of children who were conceived artificially. In 6 April 2009, a new Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act came into effect, giving gay and lesbian couples the right to artificial insemination.

Birth Certificates

When registering the birth of a child born by donor conception, the registrar does not need to be aware of the circumstances of the conception, and there will also be no indication on the child’s birth certificate that the child is donor conceived. This means that it is left entirely up to the parents whether to tell their children if they were conceived with a donor. As of October 2009, however, places which provide donor treatment will be obligated to tell recipients about the importance of informing children at a young age that they were conceived with a donor.

Conceiving Abroad

If a child is conceived abroad using a donor, then they will not need to be registered with the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) in the UK. This means that the child may struggle to find out about its donor parent or any siblings it might have.

Donor Conception Options

There are two different methods of donor conception:

  • egg and sperm donation through HFEA licensed clinics
  • known egg and sperm donation

Egg And Sperm Donation Through HFEA Licensed Clinics

The HFEA (Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority) is the authority which governs all aspects of artificial fertilisation and the storage and use of embryos. UK fertility law has been designed to make it more straightforward for those conceiving with an egg or sperm donor provided by a licensed UK clinic. This makes the legal issues involved much more clear cut, and egg and sperm donation can therefore be favourable to other methods of alternative conception.

When conceiving through a licensed clinic, the donor of either the egg or the sperm will have no legal rights towards the child. They will also be anonymous, so the donor will be unable to have contact with the recipient. If conceived at a clinic in the UK, all the details of the treatment and any child conceived will be held on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority’s Register of Information.

Although donors are anonymous to the recipients, when the child reaches 18 they will have the right to access the information kept on the Register. The child will then be able to find out selected information about the donor, which includes the donor’s name and address. The Register will also hold information regarding any genetic half siblings conceived with the same sperm or from the same egg donor.

Known Egg And Sperm Donation

In cases where a child is conceived with a known egg donor, the woman who carries the child as opposed to the woman whose egg is used is classed as the child’s legal mother.

When using a known sperm donor the law tends to become a lot more complex and can sometimes lead to the sperm donor being classed as the child’s father and having to provide for it financially.

As the law is so complex around this area it may be helpful to write a donor agreement to manage the legal issues associated with known sperm donation. While a donor agreement is not legally binding, it can be helpful in laying out the terms of the donation and may be of evidential benefit to a court dealing with any dispute.

In Vitro Fertilization

IVF stands for in vitro fertilization ('in vitro' meaning 'in glass'). It is the process of physically inserting a man's sperm to his partner’s eggs in order to produce embryos. These embryos are put back into the female partner's womb after being incubated for several days. The couple then must wait to see if the procedure has been successful.

Surrogate Mothers

Surrogacy is an arrangement between a woman and a couple or individual to carry and deliver a baby. Once the baby has been born the woman gives parental responsibility to the couple she has been surrogate for.

There are two methods of surrogacy; traditional surrogacy and host surrogacy. Traditional surrogacy involves the surrogate mother using her own egg with the intended father’s sperm. Host surrogacy involves a surrogate mother carrying the couple’s artificially created embryo.

Surrogacy Law

While surrogacy is legal in the UK, there are very strict rules that govern it. It is illegal for any money to be involved when arranging surrogacy and it is also illegal to advertise for a surrogate. It is therefore most common to find that surrogates tend to be friends or relations of the couple. There are also certain nonprofit agencies that can match surrogates with couples who are searching for one.

In the UK the surrogate mother will always be listed on the child’s birth certificate, but it becomes more complicated when deciding on who is the child’s other legal parent, and this can often depend on the surrogate’s relationship status. When the child is born, the couple who wishes to be parents of the child must go to court and apply to become its legal parent. A parental order will then be drawn up but only under strict specifications, including that one of the parties is the child’s biological parent.

It is possible for people from the UK to use a surrogate abroad, however the laws are complicated and legal advice should be sought before embarking on the process.

Surrogacy Agreements

Surrogacy agreements are generally unenforceable in the UK, which can lead to complications when a child is born and the surrogate wishes to keep it. This does not mean that the intended parents will be unable to make a claim – the court will take into account who the child’s father is, and they may be able to apply for a residence order.

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