When it comes to gay parenting, tremendous headway has been made in recent years. As a result, it’s important for couples to understand the practical, legal and personal challenges that can be involved in building a family as a gay couple.
By knowing your options and rights, you can ensure that your experience of starting a family is joyful and exciting – just as it should be.
This article will look at several options available to gay men and/or lesbian couples, including adoption, surrogacy, and co-parenting. It’s worth noting that in virtually all cases, being married or in a civil partnership will strengthen your claim to acting as co-parents for the child.
So first of all, what options are there when it comes to gay parenting?
In the UK, it has always been legal for gay, lesbian or bisexual people to adopt children, but as of 2005, it became legal for same sex couples to jointly adopt or foster a child. Of course, whilst being gay is not in itself a barrier to adopting, the adoption process is stringent and highly demanding when it comes to prospective parents. The best interests of the child are always given top priority. For both straight and gay parents, this can be a lengthy and taxing process.
If you choose to adopt as an individual for whatever reason, or you already have a child but want your partner to share responsibility, he or she can apply for parental responsibility at a later date. This will be based on a shared parenting agreement.
If you are planning to adopt, selecting the right adoption agency is key. Make sure you find an agency that has successfully worked with same sex couples in the past, and has the expertise to deal with your specific needs.
If you have successfully adopted a child, only one parent is entitled to adoption leave with pay (similar to traditional maternity leave), so you will have to decide which of you is going to register as the primary caregiver.
Surrogacy and genetically-linked pregnancies
Whilst an increasing number of gay parents are seeking to adopt, others feel it’s important to have a genetic link to their children.
For lesbians, this generally involves artificial insemination or IVF. Thanks to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008 and the legalisation of marriage and civil partnership for same-sex couples, those undertaking this procedure can now do so with greater legal protection for their families.
If you are in a civil partnership at the time of the treatment, both of you have automatic parental responsibility for the child. Otherwise, the non-childbearing mother can apply for this responsibility at a later date.
Surrogacy (the process by which a woman carries and delivers a baby with the intention of relinquishing her parental rights) is another option for gay couples. However, UK law on surrogacy remains extremely strict, so prospective parents should seek out specialist legal help to understand these laws first. There are a number of UK charitable organisations that support couples with surrogacy procedures.
Additionally, surrogacy agreements in the UK are not legally binding and, if the child’s well- being is in question at a later date, courts will act in the perceived best interests of the child and the surrogate will automatically be considered a legal parent. Within six months of birth, however, you can apply for a parental order, under which the surrogate will relinquish her claim to the baby.
Co-parenting is becoming an increasingly popular option for gay couples, particularly men. During this process, the couple enter into an agreement with a single mother or lesbian friend to collectively care for a child, however only two people can be legal parents.
Obviously, a co-parenting relationship is intensive and quite intimate, so choose your co-parents with care. It’s also advised to ensure that you draw up a co-parenting agreement which, though it may not be legally binding, lays out everyone’s expectations and roles. It should also account for how all parties involved will deal with a breakup of any constituent relationship and what arrangements will be put in place in the case of a co-parent’s death.
Whilst the challenges involved in family planning as a gay couple can seem rather intimidating, research shows that the children of gay parents are as loved and supported as any others. In addition, they don’t see their families as “different” to anyone else’s either.
Ultimately, all families are unique and all families face challenges, and gay parents are no different.
Find out more about co-parenting by getting in touch today.