Stonewall | Co-parenting
Log in
What you can do


Fertility law and co-parenting options

Disclaimer: please note the below information is a number of years old and does not necessarily represent the current landscape. We're working to update the information, and to ensure it's fully bi and trans inclusive.

What is co-parenting? 

Co-parenting is when two people agree to conceive and raise a child together when they are not in a relationship. Each person may have their own partner, so it's possible that a child has more than two parents or carers. In the UK a child can only have two legal parents, even if more adults are involved in their up-bringing.

A child’s legal parents are usually its biological mother / birthing parent and biological father / non-birthing parent. The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act (2008) sets out who a child's legal parents will be when they are conceived through artificial insemination. It allows co-parenting for same-sex couples.

Co-parenting arrangements with single women

If a man in a same-sex relationship donates his sperm to a single woman with the intention of co-parenting any resulting child, it is likely that he will be treated as the child’s legal father. If named on the birth certificate, he will also have parental responsibility for the child, and so the right to be involved in key decision-making in the child’s upbringing.

His partner may also be able to acquire status in respect of the child and there are a number of options:

  • If the couple are civil partners or married, they may sign a parental responsibility agreement (together with the birth mother) to confer parental responsibility on the father’s partner. This will give the non-biological father authority to make parental decisions, although he will not be treated as a parent for the purposes of inheritance, making it important for him to put in place a will.
  • If the couple are not civil partners or married, they may be able to apply for a joint residence order, again giving the non-biological father parental responsibility.
  • Adoption is unlikely to be a suitable option, because one of its effects would be to extinguish the birth mother’s legal status as a parent, and this is usually not appropriate in co-parenting situations

Those involved in the arrangement may wish to consider exploring their options and putting in place a co-parenting agreement

If there is a breakdown in the co-parenting relationship (or in the relationship between the fathers), the court will have powers to make orders in the best interests of the child. The various parties involved may have different rights to make different types of applications to the court, depending on the circumstances.

Co-parenting arrangements with female couples

The legal position regarding co-parenting arrangements where a man donates sperm to a female couple is more complex.

Following the changes implemented by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008, female couples who are in a civil partnership, or who are married when they conceive with donated sperm will automatically become legal parents of the child.

In this situation, the biological father would not be considered a legal parent but would be able to apply for parental responsibility. 

If the female couple he is donating to are not civil partners, the rules differ. If the child is conceived through a UK licensed fertility clinic the mothers would be able to choose whether they wish the child’s second parent to be the father or the non-birth mother. If the child is conceived outside a UK licensed fertility clinic, the biological father is likely to be viewed as the second legal parent. 

Such situations are complex and legal advice is recommended.

A Guide for Gay Dads

Pregnant Pause: A guide for lesbians on how to get pregnant

By Natalie Gamble, fertility law specialists with Natalie Gamble Associates

Other useful sources of support 

For further information contact Stonewall's Information Service.