Families are all unique and can be created in many different ways. Society has changed significantly in this regard, particularly in the last few decades, and we see diverse family structures now being created with the help of donor conception, or through a surrogacy arrangement and also via co-parenting arrangements. The concept of a parent has also changed and we see single parent families, same-sex parent families, blended families and those who although might not be a legal parent, play an important parental role in a child's life and are acknowledged as a 'psychological' or emotional parent.
Co-parenting arrangements cover a wide range of arrangements, but in summary is essentially when two people (although there can be more than two, for example, a couple and another person) who are not in a relationship together and most often live separately, conceive a child together with the view of them both having an active parental role in the child's life.
There are some key legal implications when considering embarking on a co-parenting arrangement. Firstly, in respect of parentage, even though there may be more than two people who have a parental role, there can only be two legal parents (which has an impact in terms of financial responsibility, inheritance and nationality for example). Additionally, parental responsibility (responsibility for children and the ability to make decisions on their behalf) will need to be considered - as all parents may not automatically have this from the child's birth. Parents will also need to think about the more practical aspects of parenting - how will they share caring for the child and will the child share their time with both parents equally? What about holidays and visiting wider family? Do the parents agree on medical issues? What about the child's surname? And what nursery or school should the child attend? How will the finances be shared?
It is extremely important and beneficial to discuss these points prior to embarking on a co-parenting arrangement to ensure that hopes, plans and expectations accord and a written co-parenting agreement can be a very useful tool in this regard. Whilst there is no set format or structure to agreements and they are not legally binding (the Family Court has jurisdiction in respect of applications concerning children), they can set out the key points of the arrangement and future plans to try to avoid problems or issues further down the line and the potential for court litigation. They can also be used to show what was agreed in any future litigation and may be considered as one of the circumstances of the case.
Co-parenting arrangements have recently been the subject of a Channel 4 show 'Strangers Making Babies' which has been 'driven by a rising phenomenon of platonic co-parenting'.
In the UK alone, there are over 70,000 people signed up to co-parenting sites.