This article will set forth options for same-sex couples wanting to have children and advise how to overcome common legal and social hurdles same-sex couples face when trying to grow their families. This information comes from the office of a noted child custody lawyer.
Ways Same-Sex Couples Can Become Parents
Adopting a Child
The Adoption and Children Act 2002 and the Adoption and Children (Scotland) Act 2007 authorize same-sex couples to adopt children jointly in the UK. In fact, any unmarried couple, including same-sex couples, can now apply to be considered for adoption as long as they can demonstrate that they can meet the child’s best interests.
Selecting the Right Adoption Agency for You
All adoptions in the UK must be handled by an agency, either a local governmental agency or an independent agency. While it is illegal for an adoption agency to discriminate against you based on your marital status or LGBTQ+ status, you may find it easier to deal with some agencies rather than others. Do your research. Does the agency’s website explicitly provide for LGBTQ+ adoptions? Have they worked successfully with gay or lesbian adopters before?
Home Study, Interviews, and Medical Exam
Once you apply with an agency, you and your partner, as well as your living environment, are assessed over a several-month process. If approved, you become a member of a pool of eligible adopters who can then be considered for a match with a child.
More specifically, you will need to show that you will provide a stable and loving home for a child, nurture the child, and provide for the child’s unique needs. You will meet with a social worker who will want you to discuss why you want to adopt a child and what you can offer a child. The social worker will also visit your home up to ten times to assess your home environment as well as your potential as parents.
The social worker will ask you for three personal references with whom they can speak. They will likely ask you about past relationships and may want to talk with past partners as well as family members. While this may seem intrusive, it is part of an overall assessment of your potential for parenthood. You will also need a medical exam to show that there are no physical issues or health conditions that might prevent you from properly caring for a child.
Fostering a Child
Foster care is a valuable social service that same-sex couples can provide children in need of a safe and nurturing home environment. LGBTQ+ individuals and couples may become foster carers throughout the UK.
As with adoptions, foster care is arranged through public or private agencies. Again, you will need to do your research to be sure you will be comfortable and confident working with an agency as a same-sex couple. One important aspect of becoming a foster parent is the amount and type of training you will receive from the agency.
Although foster parents must ensure the well-being of the foster children in their care, they do not have legal parental responsibilities for a foster child. In a foster care arrangement, parental responsibilities reside with the legal parents and local authorities who oversee the foster care arrangement.
There are several different types of foster care arrangements:
- Emergency foster care for children who need to stay somewhere safe while legal proceedings are underway.
- Short-term foster care for children who need somewhere to stay up to two years while legal proceedings are underway.
- Permanent foster care for children unsuited for adoption. These children stay with their foster parent or parents until they reach legal adulthood.
- Remand foster care for children who require care from a trained foster carer, according to the Court.
- Kinship foster care for children who stay with close friends or family for short or long periods of time.
- Private foster care for children whose parents arrange for them to stay with someone for more than 27 days, which must be recorded with local authorities for periodic welfare checks.
Foster parents are paid a weekly allowance to care for a child. The weekly allowance covers household expenses, food, clothing, mileage, school meals, outings, and any other items a foster child requires. The rate of pay varies among private foster agencies. Council agencies use or base their weekly allowance pay on the Local Authority (Council) national pay rates, which vary by region and the foster child’s age.
Opening your home to a child requiring foster care is a way to expand your family while providing an essential social service. For further information regarding the adoption process and the fostering process, as well as a directory of adoption and foster agencies, visit the website of the British Association for Adoption & Fostering at www.baaf.org.uk.
Surrogacy and Donor Insemination
There are two types of surrogacy – traditional surrogacy and gestational surrogacy. In a traditional surrogacy arrangement, the surrogate mother is related to and shares DNA with the child. In gestational surrogacy, an egg donor is used, and the surrogate mother carries the child but is not related to the child. This option for surrogacy requires the assistance of a fertility clinic. The intended parents may donate sperm, the egg, or both in surrogacy, and they have control over their child’s genetics.
It is illegal to advertise for a surrogate mother in the UK, and surrogacy agencies must be non-profit to operate legally. Know also that surrogacy agreements and contracts are non-binding in the UK and that the surrogate mother is considered the legal parent unless and until the Court changes that.
The intended parents in a surrogacy arrangement must obtain parental orders extinguishing the surrogate’s parental rights and her partner or spouse. Know that while LGBTQ+ intended parents are eligible for parental orders, they cannot apply as individuals and must apply to the Court as a couple. You must meet the following requirements to obtain parental orders from the Court:
- Apply for a parental order within six months of birth
- Show that the child was conceived artificially (including home insemination)
- Show that you and your partner are over 18 years of age.
- Show that you and your partner are in a marriage, civil partnership, or an enduring family relationship.
- Show that one of you is genetically related to the child.
- Show that at least one of you is domiciled in the UK, Channel Islands, or the Isle of Man.
- Show that the child is currently living with you.
- Provide the surrogate mother’s and the child’s second legal parent’s (if applicable) full consent (after the child is six weeks old)
- Show that you did not pay your surrogate any more than reasonable expenses.
Surrogacy generates complex legal issues for any couple, much less same-sex couples. There is always the chance the surrogate mother will change her mind and not consent to relinquish parental rights. Seek out the assistance of a surrogacy specialist to ensure the best chance of the outcome you want. For further information regarding surrogacy, egg donations, sperm donations, and fertility clinics, you can visit the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority website at www.hfea.gov.uk.
Once Your Child is Home
If you adopt a child, you have the same rights as heterosexual parents to Statutory Adoption Pay and adoption leave. However, as a couple, you need to decide which of you is the primary caregiver.
The primary caregiver will receive adoption leave from work for up to 52 weeks and Statutory Adoption Pay from the state or their employer for up to 39 weeks. The primary caregiver’s partner is eligible for two weeks of paid leave from work.
Be sure to arrive at this decision well prior to your child coming home and discuss your plans with your employers at least 28 days in advance of your intended leave. You can start leave from work on the day your child arrives or up to 14 days prior to your child’s arrival.
Navigating School and Society
Under the 2010 Equality Act, no organization or individual providing goods, facilities, or services may discriminate against you due to your status as a same-sex couple. Similarly, no one may discriminate against your child for having same-sex parents.
Further, under the 2006 Education and Inspections Act (England and Wales) and Scotland’s 2000 Schools Act, schools must actively prevent bullying, including homophobic bullying.
All public, private, and educational institutions are bound by these laws, and your child may not be barred from admission, treated differently, or bullied due to your status as a same-sex couple. Unfortunately, the existence of these laws alone does not guarantee freedom from discrimination or bullying.
To preemptively head off problems at school, consider talking with your child’s teachers and school administrators about your family and initiating discussions of how their curriculum will be inclusive of diverse family situations.
By making yourselves aware of the social and legal implications of becoming parents as a same-sex couple, you and your partner can preemptively solve or avoid many problems same-sex parents face while growing their families.
About the Author
Veronica Baxter is a writer, blogger, and legal assistant operating out of the greater Philadelphia area.