LGBT Solicitors | Bournemouth, Poole and Dorset
Gay, lesbian and transgender couples have benefited from major changes to the law in recent years. Our family law solicitors have specialist LGBT legal expertise covering a wide range of issues.
We can help you with same-sex divorce, civil partnership dissolution, children arrangements, pre-nuptial/post-nuptial agreements, surrogacy, adoption and sperm donor disputes.
Same-Sex Divorce, Civil Partnership Dissolution
Following the introduction of same-sex marriage, LGBT couples can now legally divorce just like any other couple.
The grounds for divorce (read about them here) remain the same save for one exception. Adultery can be cited as a legal reason for divorce only when someone has had an affair with a member of the opposite sex.
If the cause of the marriage breaking down was adultery with a member of the same sex this cannot be relied on in the divorce petition. The archaic law dictates adultery must be with a member of the opposite sex. However, in these circumstances it is possible the cite the affair as part of the other party’s unreasonable behavior.
Civil partnerships (which preceded same-sex marriage) can be dissolved. To all intents and purposes, the process is the same as getting divorced. Learn more here about the divorce process and how much it costs.
Separation For Cohabiting Same-Sex Couples
Couples who live together do not yet enjoy the same legal protection as those who are married. That is true for heterosexual and same-sex couples.
Many people assume wrongly that they have ‘common law marriage rights’ if they have cohabited for a certain period of time. This is a legal myth (although there is increasing pressure to change the law).
In the case of same-sex couples, only those who are married or in a civil partnership have certain rights relating to matters such as:
- children arrangements and adoption
- finances, debts, banking, possessions and inheritance
- property disputes.
If you are ending a relationship that has not been formalised by marriage or civil partnership then you could face some challenging legal pitfalls. Our LGBT specialist solicitors can help you to avoid problems or resolve issues.
LGBT Parents and Child Arrangements
Separation and divorce will always be emotional for any couple but the legal situation can be more difficult for same-sex couples from a legal perspective.
Depending on the circumstances, establishing the basic legal position with regard to parentage may be the first step.
A child’s birth mother is always their legal mother but other people may be also be able to gain the legal right to be recognised as a parent. The law in this area can be complex so it is best to seek specialist advice at an early stage.
Many same-sex couples turn to surrogacy as a way of starting their family. Gay couples who wish to start a family often do so with the assistance of a surrogate mother.
Sometimes the mother is known to them but many couples will go abroad to find a mother to bear their child. Popular destinations include the USA, Ukraine, Canada and India. Foreign jurisdictions have their own laws regarding parental rights – but those rights do not apply in the UK.
In England and Wales, the baby’s birth mother is always the legal mother – even if a surrogacy arrangement has been made.
So there is always the worry that the surrogate mother may change her mind and decide to keep the baby. Cases such as this are rare but not unknown. Read more about it here.
In order to resolve the issues surrounding legal parenthood it is vital to apply for a Parental Order to confirm your role as your child’s legal parent. This confirms that you are legally responsible for your child’s welfare, upbringing and financial security.
Without a Parental Order in place, a child could face significant legal problems in the future. It could affect many areas of their life including their education, medical care, inheritance rights, pensions and even passport applications.
Unless a Parental Order is made by a UK court, legal parenthood rests automatically with the birth mother. Her husband, civil partner or long term partner are also automatically recognised as legal parents – even if they have no genetic link to the baby.
Getting Financial Support For Your Child
Your obligation to support your child financially will depend on your legal status: are you the child’s legal parent?
This is a fundamental question that has significant implications for gay and lesbian couples.
That is because – according to the law – there can be differences between the child’s legal parents and those parents who have entered into a civil partnership.
Your legal status will affect how you apply for child maintenance. Parents who have entered into a civil partnership or marriage may be legally obliged to pay maintenance to support their child or former spouse.
Much will depend on the individual circumstances of each case and different legal options may be available.
Same-Sex Adoption, Step-Parent Adoption
Same-sex couples have had the legal right to adopt children since 2002. In some instances that can mean adopting a child from a previous relationship.
One example of this is a lesbian couple that has had a child with the assistance of a sperm donor. A non-biological mother can be assigned the same legal rights as the child’s biological mother.
We see a number of cases of lesbian step-parents adopting through a local authority. This absolves the child’s biological father of further responsibility in bringing up or supporting the child.
Known Donor Disputes
Some lesbian couples use a sperm donor who is known to them. They believe that this will be simpler for all concerned.
However, it can often make matters more complicated after the baby is born because the father may wish to play a further role in the child’s upbringing. Some donors want to maintain family ties – against the wishes of the lesbian couple.
In some instances this can result in a complex and protracted legal dispute, requiring specialist legal expertise to resolve it.
Before using a sperm donor, we would recommend taking out a pre-conception agreement to outline and clarify the couple’s and the donor’s expectations of their roles following the birth.
You have probably heard of pre-nuptial agreements that some couples take out before they marry. At present they tend to be more popular in the USA than the UK because they are not legally binding in this country.
Preconception agreements follow the same principle. Like post-nuptial agreements, they are not necessarily legally enforceable but they are extremely useful because can save you a great deal of money and heartache in the long run.
So why take out a preconception agreement if they’re not legally binding? These kinds of agreements can be useful tools to avoid disputes in the future, ensuring those who enter into the agreement understand each person’s expectations.
They can also be used as the basis for legal negotiation or mediation, enabling you to reach an amicable agreement out of court. This is much better for everyone. Going to court can be time-consuming, stressful and expensive so it should only ever be considered as a last resort.
The average preconception agreement costs between £600-£1,200 inc VAT.
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