Forming Families – Fertility

If you are planning on having a baby by artificial insemination, you need to know what the legal rights and responsibilities are of you, your partner and the donor. This will depend on whether the sperm comes from a licensed UK fertility clinic or someone known to you.

If the sperm used comes from a licensed UK fertility clinic then, subject to the clinic complying with certain procedures correctly, you and your partner should both be able to be the child’s legal parents from birth. The clinic will ask you to sign a number of important documents. It is crucial that you understand the legal implications of what you are signing and that the clinic follow the correct procedure. Parents choosing to have a baby this way should seek legal advice to ensure that everything is in order before the birth of the baby.

Getting legal advice is also important if you are planning to have a baby using the sperm of someone known to you. Private fertility arrangements are not regulated and you do not have the same medical and legal protections afforded by going through a fertility clinic. It is generally recommended that all parties enter into a written agreement before going ahead. Whilst courts cannot enforce such agreements, it is a useful way of clarifying all parties’ positions before the baby is born to minimise future misunderstandings.

At Bishop & Sewell we can assist you through the whole process or meet you for one off initial consultation if you would prefer. Our experienced family team can help with what can often seem a daunting and stressful process.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is sperm donation?

This is when a woman uses the sperm of someone who is not her sexual partner to become pregnant. The donated sperm is used to fertilise an egg. This can either take place outside the intended mother’s body through a procedure called in vitro fertilisation (‘IVF’) or inside the intended mother’s body through intrauterine insemination (‘IUI’).

What is egg donation?

This is when a woman, who does not intend to become the mother of the baby, donates eggs to be fertilised. There are various ways that a baby can be born using donated eggs. The most common procedure involves the donating female and the intended mother synchronising their menstrual cycles.

The egg is then fertilised outside of the body using in vitro fertilisation (‘IVF’) or intra-cytoplasmic sperm injection (‘ICSI’) and then transferred into the intended mother’s womb.

There are other procedures available when eggs are donated. We recommended seeking medical advice or visiting the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA)’s website for more information.

What legal rights will my partner and I have over our baby?

This is a complex question and a number of different factors inform the answer. If you give birth to the baby, and are thus the ‘birth mother,’ then you will always be the legal mother at birth. This applies even where the egg is donated and the baby has no genetic link to the birth mother.

If you and your partner are married or in a civil partnership, you are both automatically the legal parents and both have parental responsibility. This is the case whether you are a heterosexual or a homosexual couple.

If you and your partner are not married it is more complicated. If you are not the birth parent (so the non-birth female in a lesbian relationship and the male partner in a heterosexual relationship) you can be the legal parent. There are strict procedural requirements that must be met in order for this to happen.  It is strongly recommended that couples seeks legal advice about the procedure before conception to avoid problems post birth.

I want to have a baby using the sperm and or egg donated by someone else, how do I go about getting this?

You can use the sperm of an anonymous donor found at a UK licensed fertility clinic. Alternatively, you can use the sperm or eggs of someone known to you. This is often called a private fertility arrangement.

If you are considering entering into a private fertility arrangement, it is recommended that you enter into an agreement in respect of the child before conception. This will reduce the possibility of parenting and contact disputes later down the line.

What legal rights will the person who donated the sperm or the eggs have over my baby?

A woman who donates eggs will not obtain any legal rights at birth, unless she is in a relationship with the birth mother. In this scenario, the donor can be the second legal parent, subject to certain requirements being met. A man who donates sperm will not have any legal rights over the baby if he donates sperm to a UK licensed fertility clinic and the recipients are not known to him.

Where the donor is known to the recipients, then the situation is a little more complicated. The donor can be the legal parent at birth if you and your partner are not married or in a civil partnership.

It is a very complex area of law which is constantly evolving. Whether the birth mother, the partner of the birth mother or the donor, it is crucial that you understand your legal rights and obligations before conception.

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Who to contact

For more information the following lawyers will be able to help with Forming Families – Fertility.

Louise Barretto
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Karma Hickman
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