When the relationship of a same-sex couple who have children breaks up, there can be a problem regarding the meaning of the word ‘parent’, because at least one of the couple will not be the biological parent of the children.

In a recent case, a lesbian couple, who were not civil partners, separated after 13 years. They had one child, who was conceived using an anonymous sperm donor. After the relationship broke down, a shared residence order was made.

The child’s biological mother wished to have a financial contribution from her ex-partner. When the issue of maintenance came before the court, the question arose as to whether her ex-partner was a ‘parent’ under the law. The judge ruled that simply granting a person parental responsibility (via a shared parenting order), does not necessarily make them a parent in law.

Whilst biology is an important factor in such cases, it is not the deciding factor. In another recent case, the biological father of a child born to one of a lesbian couple had a claim to be given parental responsibility denied because the court considered it was not in the child’s best interests.

Says Pauline O’Rourke, “The law regarding children conceived as a result of artificial means changed significantly following the introduction of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008. If you are considering having a child by such means, it is very important to make sure the appropriate consents are signed. For children conceived before the Act came into effect, the law is less clear.”