Parental & Conception Agreements

Pre-conception agreements nearly always involve parents in alternative family structures. For such individuals, accidents of conception are almost unheard of. Conception must, by necessity, be at least part-planned. It is often discussed at great length before attempts to conceive begin.

Some gay parents will reduce to writing – in varying degrees of detail ranging from a statement of principle all the way to the minutiae of how care will be shared – agreements reached pre-conception about parenting. This is a step that very few heterosexual parents take.

What is more common amongst heterosexual parents are parenting agreements: documents that record what has been agreed about a child’s life once he or she is born. These are most frequently entered into when parents separate, but are still on sufficiently amicable terms that they are able to agree on the shape and structure of ongoing parental involvement in the child’s life.

What weight are such agreements given? The Court of Appeal recently (March 2012) confirmed in a case in which one of our solicitors was involved that pre-conception agreements should not have too much prominence attached to them when it came to resolving disputes between parents about children. “The adults’ pre-conception intentions were relevant factors in this case but they neither could nor should be determinative. […] What must dictate [any decision] is the welfare of the child and not the interests of the adults”.

The same principle applies to parenting agreements: these are not dry legal contracts that will bind the parents (or a Judge) to a particular outcome. What they are is a useful starting point to enable parents to record their expectations and agreements at an identifiable point in time. If circumstances, and intentions, then change, at least there will be an accepted baseline from which an enquiry into what is in the child’s interests now can begin.

A pre-conception or parenting agreement should be as detailed as the parties can make it. This will depend entirely on the adults involved, their priorities, and how much they can agree between them. Some agreements will be no more than general statements of principle about different parenting roles. Others will be much more detailed.

Some matters that parents might want to include in a pre-conception or parenting agreement, where relevant, include:

  • Where will the child live? Will care be shared between the parents? If so, how practically will that work?
  • Who will be named on the birth certificate?
  • What surname will the child take? Who will be involved in deciding given names?
  • Who will be involved in parenting decisions: for example, choice of religion, school, decisions about medical treatment, international travel, etc?
  • What arrangements are proposed for the division of the child’s time on special days – for example, birthdays, Mother’s and Father’s Day, Christmas, Easter and other religious holidays, etc?
  • What is proposed in terms of contact? If the child lives mostly in one home, will he have contact with the other parent/s? If yes, when and how will that occur and will it develop over time?
  • What involvement will extended family members have in the child’s life and upbringing?
  • What are the arrangements for the calculation and payment of child support?
  • Micromanagement: who will deal with routine appointments with doctors and dentists; what will the child call each of his or her parents; who will go to parents’ evenings and other school events?
  • How do the parties propose to resolve any dispute that might arise between them about the child and his or her upbringing? Do they agree to approach a mediator or therapist in the first instance, prior to issuing court proceedings?

Such agreements will be as varied as the families to whom they relate.

How can we help?

  • Identify with you matters that are most important to deal with in your agreement;
  • Advise in relation to the developing law about the weight and significance to be attached to such agreements if any disputes arise;
  • Prepare and negotiate on your behalf the terms of a parental or conception agreement;
  • Identify a mediator to help you resolve with the other adults involved any disputes that arise about the terms of the parental or conception agreement;
  • Advise about when and how the terms of any agreement should be reviewed as circumstances change.

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