Sperm donation, a known donor or co-parenting: which is right for me?

The fertility industry is big business. The global sperm-bank market could be worth $5bn by 2025. Thousands of women in the UK need donor sperm each year to conceive and demand is increasing. Many women have male partners with fertility issues. There are more than 2.5 million men in the UK with fertility problems. Whilst statistics vary, around 35% of men are understood to be sub-fertile. In addition, legal and social changes mean growing numbers of single women and lesbian couples are turning to sperm donation, a known donor or co-parenting to have children.

A lack of choice or availability of donor sperm in the UK has resulted in increasing numbers of people using unlicensed services, a known donor or going overseas. The UK's first national sperm bank was set up in October 2014 to try and address sperm donor issues in the UK.  Unfortunately, it closed in 2016 having only successfully recruited 7 men before its one-off grant from the Department of Health of £77,000 ran out.

Undergoing fertility treatment with donor sperm at a UK licensed fertility clinic can be a time consuming and expensive process: with donor sperm costing up to £1,000 and private fertility treatment costs on top. On-demand services offer a variety of alternative ways to find a willing sperm donor or co-parent and enable people to take control of their family building arrangements privately. Overseas clinics heavily market lower-cost fertility treatment plans and instant availability of donor sperm.

The decision to build a family through assisted conception with donor sperm, a known donor or co-parenting is without question a big step. It can create wide-ranging legal, medical, practical, financial and emotional issues which need to be managed proactively from the outset.

What are the benefits of using a registered UK sperm donor?

Registered arms-length sperm donors in the UK are rigorously medically screened. They can only donate to up to 10 families through licensed fertility treatment and they must agree that any children born from their donations can contact them when they reach 18 years of age. These arms-length donors do not acquire legal status and responsibilities for the child at birth under English law (although the legal position is more complex in relation to a known sperm donor). Many UK fertility clinics no longer have waiting lists for donor sperm.

How do I find a known donor or co-parent?

There are a number of ways of finding a known donor or co-parent including: a friend, a family member (inter-family donation), through an on-demand app, specialist website or organization.

What are the benefits of conceiving with a known donor or a co-parent?

Conception with a known donor or co-parent provides a more personal dimension to a family building arrangement. It offers greater flexibility and scope for a more personal family identity and narrative. However, it also creates complex legal and practical issues which require careful management. Disputes can sometimes arise in practice about the legal status, rights and involvement of a known donor or co-parent in a child's or family's life. This can cause a great deal of unwanted worry, stress and difficulties which can seriously undermine family life.

Should I enter into a known donor or co-parenting agreement?

Yes, you should seek specialist legal advice and execute a written known donor or co-parenting agreement before establishing a pregnancy to understand the law, implications and outcomes in practice. A known donor or co-parenting agreement needs to be tailored to your particular situation. It should explain and clarify the relevant law and the legal status of all parties.  It should also reflect the intentions, expectations and role of everyone and establish important ground rules in practice. 

The English Family Court can take into account a written known donor or co-parenting agreement if a dispute arises.  Whilst the court's paramount consideration is the welfare of the child, a known donor or co-parenting agreement can be of important evidential benefit of what was envisaged, understood and agreed between the parties.

The value of expert fertility, parenting and family law services

Assisted conception, including known donation and co-parenting, is a complex and evolving area of law and practice. Parents, children, donors and families need legal clarity and protection. Law doesn't always meet the needs and expectations of modern families in the short, medium and longer term.

The world of online and on-demand fertility services seeks to make it quicker and easier to have a baby and create a family. Expert fertility, parenting and family law advice is an integral part of the parenthood journey.  It is not an 'add-on'. You can read more about the value of expert fertility, parenting and family law here.

If you would like to discuss your situation in more detail or find out more about UK fertility, family  and parenting law contact Louisa Ghevaert by email: Louisa.ghevaert@michelmores.com or by telephone +44 (0)207 7886382.