When is a parent a parent?Pepperells
Author – Holly Bates
As we continue our Pride in Hull celebrations we are looking today at the rich and varied make up of modern families across the country.
They come in many forms; those of heterosexual couples, same-sex couples, trans parents, combinations of parents and step-parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and in many cases siblings raising younger family members.
The modern family has many potential compositions, all with their own idiosyncrasies but all of which add to a richness in family life which is being championed and celebrated in this week of Pride. It is also now being supported in law.
Examples of children being cared for by people other than their two birth parents are increasingly common and the law has adapted to meet these ever-changing needs. My colleague Ros Smith previews just some of the many changes across the last 50 years since the marker was laid down with the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1967 here.
This ever-growing body of legislation is welcome but it does not always translate into clarity. Even the term “parent”, at least in legal terms, has undergone some serious redefining.
You can be a parent and you can have parental responsibility, or you can just have one or them. But what is the difference?
A parent was traditionally defined as a child’s mother or father. While a child can still only legally have two parents because of just one of the changes on the journey towards equality, two men or two women can now be named as a “parent”.
When the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008 came into effect it meant children born through licensed UK fertility treatment could have two parents on their birth certificates, this allowed for a legally-recognised second female parent.
Following this in 2010 Parental Orders became available for gay parents who had made surrogacy arrangements to have parental status conferred upon them by the Courts, an important change but ultimately only part of a complex legal framework.
The Gender Recognition Act which came into effect in 2005 also protects the status of parents who switch gender following the conception of a child. That is progressive.
In the same year the Adoption and Children Act allowed un-married couples and same-sex couples the ability to adopt children and be identified as the child’s legal parent. LGBT+ couples are subject to the same comprehensive assessment process as any other prospective adopters.
The ability for members of the LGBT+ community to be legally recognised as parents rather than merely carers for a child was an important victory, and another step towards equality; couples were no longer excluded from the title and status of a parent.
Yet, while a child can only have two parents more than two people may have parental responsibility.
A person with parental responsibility is someone who has “the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which by law a parent of a child has in relation to the child and his property”. This can be achieved by marriage, civil partnership, order of the court, or formal agreement between a family.
It is possible for a child’s father not to have parental responsibility, yet still be identified as a parent. This can occur due to the father not being included on a child’s birth certificate, being unmarried at the time of the child’s birth and being registered on a child’s birth certificate before December 2003, or having his parental responsibility extinguished by order of the court.
Similarly, there are important legal steps that same-sex couples must undertake as part of the surrogacy or fertilisation process to ensure their legal status as both “parents” and as having “parental responsibility”.
Many families can come to an agreement in respect of the arrangements for the children in their care, however there are occasions when the living arrangements for children need to be formalised by way of court order or formal agreement.
This can be achieved in many ways, such as through a Delegation of Parental Responsibility Agreement, through a Child Arrangements Order, Parental Responsibility Order, Special Guardianship Order.
Each option has its own legal framework and should be carefully considered around the needs of each individual family – it is paramount that the focus be on the best interests of the child. It is with great pride that we can confirm that all of these options are now available to LGBT+ families due to the progression in the laws in our country.
We may have come a long way since 1967 but it is essential our laws continue to adapt to the needs of modern families as we move closer towards equality, not just for our LGBT+ community, but for every parent and carer in our country.