Legal Considerations

Note that this section is not written by a lawyer. It is written by two gay couples who now have two children each.

UK legal considerations

Both authors have never paid any UK legal fees, nor do they believe a UK lawyer is necessary. The most important UK consideration to know is that your gestational carrier must be preferably unmarried. Otherwise, under British law, the husband of your surrogate will be considered your child’s father. For more explicit information, see https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/surrogacy-overseas and http://www.ukba.homeoffice.gov.uk/sitecontent/documents/residency/Intercountry-surrogacy-leaflet.

Although you and your partner may be recognised as parents in the United States, the laws in the UK are different.  Your surrogate's husband (if married) will have parental rights.  To avoid this complication, ensure your gestational carrier is unmarried.  Married surrogates are possible but this requires the parents to return with a 12 month visa in the infant’s US passport (to do so complete form MN1 early during the pregnancy), obtain a UK Parental Order, and then obtain a British passport.  Getting the Parental Order may take some time and curtail travel till it is granted, allowing a UK passport to be issued. Some advise legal advice, though we know of couples who have not needed lawyers. In summary, the reason most of us try and avoid married surrogates is to avoid bureaucracy. You will also want to ensure that your surrogate has contractually waived all parental rights.  The contract with your surrogate should be undertaken by a US lawyer who is familiar with the law in state in which your surrogate lives.

In no particular order, here are some pieces of advice which may be helpful:

  1. The commissioning couple should ensure that their wills are updated prior to starting  IVF, so that any children born have adequate provision. A proper will should include nominating who should care for them if the commissioning couple were both to die.
  2. Ensure that your pension benefits and any life insurance policies are adapted in advance of the birth, as automatic rights for the child only commence following the provision of legal paternity by a Parental Order (and not by a Parental Responsibility Agreement).
  3. When travelling with your infant / child, we advise you take most/all of the documents  referred to in this section, to avoid complications at international borders: civil partnership document, parental responsibility agreement and step-parent agreement, copy of US court order giving you full and sole custody, Parental Order (if available) and the child's birth certificate.
  4. Surrogacy: the main proviso is that no money other than "reasonable expenses" should  be paid to the surrogate. While there is no strict definition as what constitutes "reasonable expenses" it is left  up to the individuals involved in a surrogate arrangement to come to an agreement regarding these expenses. As of 2010, a figure up to £15,000 is said to be acceptable. It is also the case that third  parties must not benefit,  although if they do (as is the case if outside agencies are used) then it is the third party  and not the commissioning couple who are in breach of the law.
  5. If the intended father's name goes on a UK birth certificate, then he has equal rights  over the child along with the surrogate. If the infant(s) have a non-UK birth certificate then the biological father should sign a "Parental Responsibility Agreement", ideally before leaving for the UK. This form merely requires the consenting signature of surrogate and  biological father, in front of an appropriate official (a consulate official will suffice). It should then be sent for ratification to the Family Division of the High Court in Holborn, London. (Note that a UK passport is enabled by having the biological father - assuming he is a UK citizen - and surrogate mother on the birth certificate).
  6. An adjunct to a parental order is the "Parental Responsibility for Step-Parents". This should be signed at the same time as the Parental Responsibility Order, so that the non- biological father has rights over the child (important if the biological father were to die). This agreement requires the surrogate  couple to be in a civil partnership, and requires a court order to be dissolved.
  7. Six weeks after birth, the commissioning couple can apply for a Parental Order (see  below) that will give them full and permanent parental rights over the child under UK  law, and remove those rights from the surrogate . (See below)

As of 2013, some of our members have obtained parental leave from work (termed adoption leave) providing the same rights as maternity leave. This allows up to 1 years absence from work (much better than the limited 2 week paternity leave). It would be worth discussing with your employer / work-place advisor. Adjunctive self-employment is allowable as long as it is no different to that performed before; and annual leave allowances accrue whilst on parental leave rather than being calculated pro rata. See http://www.cloisters.com/news-pdf-downloads/rachel-crasnow-nov-2012-viewpoint.pdf

US legal considerations

US laws vary greatly from state to state. Generally speaking, surrogacy contracts are considered more enforceable in California and Massachusetts. Other considerations:

  1. Any baby born in the United States is automatically eligible for US citizenship.  Most babies born via surrogacy in the US travel back to the UK on their US passports.  To obtain a US passport, book an appointment at any regional passport office.  Unlike the UK, the baby must appear in person.  Bring with you a certified copy of the baby’s birth certificate, as well as proof of identity for you and your partner.
  2. Post-birth in the US, do not apply / choose  to not apply for a Social Security (similar to a National Insurance  number) for your newborn. US citizens (including your child) are responsible for paying income tax on income earned anywhere in the world. By not applying for a Social Security number you may extend the number of years in which your child has to decide whether to keep or renounce his US citizenship.
  3. Some US states (including Massachusetts provide birth certificates that "support" surrogacy (i.e. the certificate names both "fathers" but not the gestational carrier), although this does not seem necessary if the bio-dad is known. In Massachusetts this is done via a "pre birth order" granted by a family court for a relevant county. The cost of such should run no more than about $2,000 in legal fees. However a pre-birth order would prevent utilization of a surrogate’s insurance in the event that expensive post-natal care were required. Post-natal care can be expensive, and hospital costs as high as $1M are possible.

The legal process at birth

  1. The surrogacy agency or you arrange for a paternity test. Be certain to use a DNA lab that is recognised by the UK Border Authority. Using a recognised lab will save you from repeating the exercise again when applying for a UK passport or UK Parental Order. A paternity test can be expedited so that results are available within 24 hours. The costs vary from about $350 to $1,000 depending upon the speed required. A DNA test may not be required if the sperm donor is known.
  2. Then the surrogate mother & biological father sign a State-specific "Acknowledgement of  Paternity" form (this occurred in Wisconsin). This form allows you to opt out of obtaining a Social Security number (similar to National Insurance number) for the infant. The form must be witnessed by a notary (more commonplace in the US than UK; there is usually someone so qualified in most large organisations). The form is submitted with  the DNA test result to obtain the birth certificate (ask for 5 certified copies).

Securing a Parental Order

Updated by the 2009 amendments to the Human Embryology & Fertilisation Act, which came into force in early 2010:

Because a UK Parental Order requires petitioning the High Court, some see the process as daunting. Both authors have had experience with UK lawyers who try to take advantage of you, receiving quotes ranging from £25,000 to £100,000 for the process. Instead we downloaded a form, filled it out and represented ourselves. The process was entirely painless and cost a total of approximately £200. If you speak with a lawyer who tries to charge you more than a few hundred pounds for the process, our advice is to run. Run quickly from such lawyers. There are unfortunately many who are targeting a relatively affluent group with such unnecessary and expensive legal services.

Both couples who author this website have now successfully been granted a Parental Order, without needing any form of legal representation. Moreover, a court reporter has told us that he has over-seen 15 Parental Orders, and only 1 required legal input in court. Here are several bits of advice to help the process run smoothly:

  1. It is sensible to have read relevant sections of the HFEA Act: http://www.hfea.gov.uk/134.html
  2. Prepare a folder containing relevant documents for the court reporter to review on his/her visit. This should include itemised evidence of surrogate’s expenses (which, it is said, should be no more than about £15,000 to be credible); official documents such as birth certificates, paternity tests from a recognised laboratory such as “DNA Diagnostics Centre” when there is uncertainty as to paternity (this costs about $800), marriage/civil partnership certificates etc. It is worth setting out a spreadsheet that shows comprehensive details of all the surrogate’s expenses. The law requires that only expenses (rather than compensation) are paid so the more documentation that can be provided the better.
  3. It is advised to have the following document signed (Parental Order Agreement), which the court reporter will require.
  4. Note that the Court are primarily interested in the welfare of the child.

How to secure a parental order

  1. Download Form C51 from HM Court Services. The application for a Parental Order must be made after the child is six weeks old and before he is six months old.
  2. Intended parents must both be over 18 and must be married, civil partners or living  together in an enduring  family relationship. At least one must be a biological  parent of  the child. At least one  must be domiciled in  a part of the UK,  Channel Islands or Isle  of Man. The conception must have taken place artificially (which includes home  insemination). The child must have his/her home with the intended parents at the time  of the application. The surrogate mother must freely consent, once the child is at least 6 weeks old.
  3. To apply for a parental order, the intended parents must complete Form C51 and submit to a Family Proceedings Court (Magistrates Court) of their choice, along  with a copy of the birth certificate and a copy of the court sanctioned  DNA test (if more than one potential bio-dad involved), and a cheque for about £200. The court will issue form C52, which the surrogate  mother (and, if  applicable, her husband) must sign and return to the court. In London, the address is: London Family Court, 59-65 Wells Street, London W1A 3AE and their telephone number is: 0207 508 3400.
  4. International surrogacy cases are referred to the High Court. The court will  appoint  a parental order reporter (a social worker), who will visit your home and meet your child.
  5. When the social worker visits, he may ask for additional documentation, such as the detail of expenses you reimbursed your gestational carrier. We understand that as long as such expenses are no higher than about £15,000 that there is generally no issue. The social worker will interview you, your partner, and inspect your home. He will also interview your gestational carrier. Once he has all of the required items, he will prepare a report for the Court.
  6. At preliminary hearing the judge may choose to award the parental order on the spot. This will of course depend upon the nature of the report from the parental order reporter. In our experience, the High Court judge could not have been more friendly and seemed pleased to see us representing ourselves. The Parental Order was granted at the preliminary hearing.

Why bother with a Parental Order?

Why not merely obtain a Parental Responsibility Agreement? Some couples choose this route although, in our experience, the Parental Order is fairly easy and inexpensive to obtain (despite what some lawyers may tell you).  The downside of not having a Parental Order is as follows:

  1. The gestational carrier remains (as far as UK law is concerned) one of the parents,  with all the rights that entails. This is highly relevant if the biological father dies.
  2. Technically, the surrogate mother has to give written permission were the child to  travel outside the UK for more than 1 month.
  3. The Parental Responsibility Agreement (including for step- parents) confers rights  until the child is 18 years old. Thereafter, technically, only the gestational carrier will  be next of kin, which may effect rights of inheritance, pension benefits, and next-of-kin status.
  4. To obtain similar rights as provided by a Parental Order after the infant is older than  6 months requires adoption, which is much more complicated and which stipulates  that the surrogate receives no payment nor expenses. This may become a cause for  regret for couples who do not request a parental order.