Alternative Family Structure was again at the forefront of traditional and social media this weekend, following Mary Portas explaining that her brother is the genetic second-parent of son Horatio, whom she has had with partner Melanie Rickie.
Melanie and Mary were one of the first same-sex couples to convert their Civil Partnership into a same-sex marriage at the end of last year. Melanie gave birth to their son who is now 2 years of age through the assistance of IVF, but it was not until this weekend that the identity of Horatio’s biological father was known.
The couple are reported as explaining that for them, the arrangement allowed their son to have a biological link with both of them, something which of course is not offered by anonymous or friend donation.
According to the reports however, they have also been anxious to include Mary’s brother in Horatio’s upbringing, and he has been heavily involved since day one and Horatio will know from the time he is of an age to understand, his place within the biological, legal and psychological family structure. The couple are cited as glowing with praise for the arrangement, which they feel is offering the best of all worlds to all four.
Alternative Family Structures involving gamete donation, Surrogacy and Adoption are increasingly common thanks to more accessible IVF services and as demonstrated by Portas and Rickie, can be an absolutely wonderful way of bringing a family together and raising children outside of the traditional model.
Success is, however, often down to careful planning, and most importantly a lot of communication in advance of entering into such arrangements to cover the expectation of everyone involved as to what role they will play and how the child will be raised.
This includes getting expert legal advice from the start about the position of everyone involved and also what, if anything, needs to be done in order to ensure that everyone’s role is formalised so as to achieve what they want.
The law in England and Wales does not always apply to the parents in Alternate Family Structures as common sense would expect and it’s always important to ensure that formalities and legalities are undertaken where necessary to avoid unnecessary dramas or difficulties further down the line.
There is no reason why, if all of this is done, an Alternative Family Structure should be any less than the overwhelming success story reported for Mary and Melanie, and hopefully their experience can reassure couples considering such arrangements how well it can work.
Cara Nuttall is a Senior Family Solicitor at Slater and Gordon Lawyers UK.
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