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Co-parenting and parental responsibility

We consider some frequently asked questions about exercising parental responsibility when co-parenting.

What is co-parenting?

The term “co-parenting” refers to two or more people who may or may not live together or be in a relationship, but choose to raise a child, or children, together. For example, a same sex female couple may decide that they wish to have a child with a known sperm donor with a view to the father playing an active role in the child’s life.

Who might benefit from having a co-parenting agreement?

Anyone who has decided to create a family might benefit from having a co-parenting agreement, but often those planning to start a family in a way that is not traditionally considered conventional. For example, friends who are not romantically involved but want to raise a child together or a friend agreeing to be a donor or surrogate.

What is a co-parenting agreement?

A co-parenting agreement is a document setting out who is going to play a role in the child’s life and everyone’s expectations as to how the child will be raised and the extent of each person’s involvement.

What sort of things should a co-parenting agreement include?

Each co-parenting agreement is bespoke and should be drafted to reflect the intentions of the individuals involved. Below is a list of some of the matters the parties ought to consider. However, this list is by no means exhaustive:

  • Which individuals are to play a role in the child’s life and how will they be known to the child, i.e. mother, father etc.?
  • How will the co-parents explain the child’s birth story to them and at what stage?
  • Whether if a disagreement arises the parties to the agreement would be happy for the agreement to be disclosed to a court in the future – if so, then it is a good idea for this to be recorded on the face of the agreement
  • Who will be the legal parents of the child? It is important to bear in mind that only two parents can be recorded on the birth certificate and it is not always possible to choose who those two individuals should be. For more on legal parenthood, see our children law web page.
  • Who will have parental responsibility for the child? In the event that one of the co-parents will not have parental responsibility from birth, whether it is agreed that they should acquire it and if so, how they will do so.
  • Arrangements for the child’s care – how will the child’s time be split between the co-parents? Will one parent be viewed as the primary carer or will care be shared equally? Is the birth mother prepared to consent to overnight stays as soon as the baby is born or would overnight stays be introduced at a later stage? If, for example, the birth mother intends to breastfeed then that will have a practical impact on the arrangements for the other parent(s) to spend time with the child.
  • Arrangements for special events such as the child’s birthday, the birthdays of the parties, Christmas, New Year, Father’s Day and Mother’s Day, etc.
  • Who should be able to take the child on holiday and which parent shall hold any legal documents such as the child’s birth certificate and their passport?
  • Who should receive updates with regard to the child’s development and achievements? When the child starts school, who should receive copies of the child’s school report and be invited to attend parents’ evenings?
  • Who will meet the child’s expenses? 
  • Who will have a say in any major decisions affecting the child’s life such as schooling and medical treatment etc. (This largely depends on who has parental responsibility but you can still record your intentions in the agreement.)
  • What would happen if the child is born with a serious health condition or disability?
  • Will the child have a relationship with wider family members such as aunties, uncles, cousins and grandparents?
  • Will the child be brought up in a certain faith?
  • If the child’s primary carer is in a relationship with either a party to the agreement or another individual, what should happen if that relationship breaks down?
  • If one of the parties to the agreement embarks on a new relationship should there be any ground rules as to when that new partner can be introduced to the child? Would the parties, for example, expect to be given notice of the introduction so that they could prepare the child, or would they require the relationship to have lasted a minimum term before the new partner could be introduced?
  • What first name and surname will the child have?
  • How will the child be disciplined?
  • Should there be a review clause so as to ensure that the agreement keeps in step with the needs of the child?
  • Would it be a good idea to sign up to a mutual app such as “Our Family Wizard” which would allow the parties to share calendars and photographs of the child etc.?

No, a co-parenting agreement is not legally binding upon the parties. That being said, it is still a good idea to enter into one. Talking through everyone’s expectations can help identify any potential issues/misunderstandings and this will allow the parties an opportunity to resolve any such issues in advance of the birth. 

Further, in the event of a dispute, one or more of the co-parents may seek to rely on the agreement reached. In the event that court proceedings are issued, the judge hearing the case may agree to consider the contents of the co-parenting agreement on the basis that it is evidence of the parties’ intentions as at the date when the agreement was entered into. 

Ultimately, the judge is not bound by the contents of the agreement and can make a different order. When considering what arrangements are appropriate, the welfare of the child will always be the court’s paramount consideration.

Is it possible to obtain a court order mirroring the contents of the co-parenting agreement?

Once the child is born, if the co-parents wish to formalise their agreement, one option would be to apply for a court order by consent. As highlighted above however, the court would have the final say and would only approve the arrangements for the child if they were deemed to be in the child’s best interests. The court must also apply what is known as the “No Order Principle” which states that the court must not make an order unless it considers that doing so would be better for the child than making no order at all.

For more information on parental responsibility, read our other articles:

What is parental responsibility, who has it and how to get it if you don’t have it

What kind of decisions require parental responsibility and how to deal with conflicts arising from those decisions

If you have any questions about parental responsibility when co-parenting, please contact our child law solicitors.

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