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