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Family Court Options for Alternative and Extended Families

Another alternate family case has been featured in the news today, demonstrating again the various ways in which the family courts can and will help people to build family units outside of the traditional parenthood model.

The reports stem from a decision made by Mrs Justice Theis, a leading Family Law Judge. The decision allowed a man in his 20s to become the legal father to a child born to his mother through a surrogacy arrangement, using a donor egg, by way of an adoption order. 

Usually, a Surrogacy Arrangement is followed by an application for a Parental Order, which has the effect of making the commissioning couple the legal parents of the child, and extinguishing the legal links between the child and the surrogate (and her husband, if applicable). Currently Parental Orders are only available to couples and single parents are not eligible to apply. 

In this case an adoption order (which can be made in favour of a single applicant) was made instead, having the same effect - to secure the legal relationship between the father and child and extinguish the legal ties of between the child and the surrogate (the child’s grandmother, in effect). 

The case demonstrates that there are many ways in which alternative, or extended family structures can be formalised. It also shows how complex these arrangements can be legally and emotionally, for example where a family member has dual role of both mother and grandmother or a father and brother. In her judgment, Mrs Justice Theis has placed much emphasis on the amount of planning and preparation the family had through both legal advice and counselling to help them work through the potential emotional minefield and obviously felt that the preparation they had undertaken was an important factor in allowing the arrangement to be formalised in law. 

All parties entering into any form of Alternative Family Arrangement, whether through egg or sperm donation, surrogacy or unusual adoption arrangements are required to undertake some form of counselling to help them work through the issues which can arise from such arrangements, and the emphasis placed on both the legal and emotional preparation in this case is a reminder of how important the court considers thorough preparation to be. 

We advise anyone considering parenting a child through any of the many different techniques available such as gamete donation, surrogacy, adoption, or special guardianship to obtain legal advice about the pros and cons of each type of legal status and eligibility from the outset to ensure that, as in the case reported today, there is a happy and straightforward outcome. 

Cara Nuttall is a Senior Family Solicitor at Slater and Gordon Lawyers UK. 

Slater and Gordon Lawyers have a team of Children Law specialists who undertake alternative and extended family law cases. We offer both flexible pricing and fixed fees for family law and divorce legal services. For an initial consultation call the Family Solicitors at Slater and Gordon on freephone 0800 916 9055 or contact us online and we will call you. 

Slater and Gordon Lawyers have more than 1,450 staff and 18 offices in London, Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham, Sheffield, Milton Keynes, Bristol, Derby, Merseyside, Cambridge, Edinburgh, Cardiff, Halifax, Newcastle, Wakefield and meeting rooms in Bramhall, Cheshire and in Hull, Yorkshire.