Guide to donor conception: should I use a known or unknown sperm donor?
25 August 2021
There are many reasons for considering the conception of a child using donor sperm, otherwise known as donor conception. However, whatever lies behind your choice of this route to create your family, the decisions you make along the way can have lifelong implications for you and your child.
One key decision will be whether you use a known or unknown donor, as each option has different implications for both the conception itself and the future.
The law in this area is complex. Your child’s legal parenthood will be determined by the circumstances around their conception, such as whether artificial conception takes place at home or if you conceive at a licensed fertility clinic and whether you are single, married or in a civil partnership at the time of conception.
It is also important to give thought to the implications of using a known or unknown donor.
Key concepts: Legal parenthood and parental responsibility with donor conception
Legal parents have a lifelong legal relationship with their child.
· A legal parent may or may not have a biological link to their child. Conversely, a child’s biological parent is not always considered to be their legal parent.
· A child cannot have more than two legal parents.
· A legal parent has a responsibility to financially maintain their child.
· A child may have the right to inherit from a legal parent.
· The nationality of a child’s legal parents may determine the child’s nationality.
· A legal parent can be named on the child’s birth certificate and, if they are, they will acquire parental responsibility for the child.
· A legal parent can make an application in respect of their child under The Children Act 1989 without the permission of the court (for example, for a child arrangements order defining who the child shall live with and/or spend time with).
Parental responsibility refers to all the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority that a parent or guardian has towards a child in law. In practice, an individual with parental responsibility has the right to be consulted about decisions that affect a child, such as those relating to education, health and welfare.
A legal parent does not always have parental responsibility for a child. Conversely, you do not need to be the legal parent of a child to acquire parental responsibility.
Donor conception: the options
Donor conception: Conceiving with an unknown donor at a licensed clinic
It is unlawful for an unlicensed organisation to provide you with a sperm sample so, if you are using an unknown donor, you will need to go through a licensed clinic. It is unusual for a licensed clinic to allow you to take a sperm sample home, so chances are that the artificial insemination will happen at the licensed clinic.
There are strict rules for the selection of donors, which take into account age, health and personal and family medical history. All samples are screened for a number of conditions, including sexually transmitted diseases.
Although the sperm donor can request confirmation of the number of children born through their donation, the mother and child are anonymous to the donor.
The donor is anonymous to the child until they reach the age of 18, although they will sometimes write a short anonymous paragraph about themselves to be shared with the parents after birth. This can help the parents talk to the child about their origins in the future. When a child reaches the age of 16, they can request non-identifying information about the donor and any donor-conceived genetic siblings. From the age of 18, they can request identifying information about the donor and any donor-conceived genetic siblings (with mutual consent).
When a child is conceived at a licensed clinic, the donor will not be the child’s legal parent. The mother can enter into an agreement providing for her partner to be the child’s legal parent, regardless of their marital status.
Donor conception: Conceiving with a known donor at a licensed clinic
It is possible to use a known sperm donor at a licensed fertility clinic; the donor can be a friend or non-blood relation. At a clinic, known donors will generally go through the same medical screening as an unknown donor, but the requirements regarding age and sperm quality are generally relaxed.
A known donor will not be the legal parent of a child if the child is conceived through a licensed fertility clinic and the birth mother can enter into an agreement providing for her partner to be other legal parent, regardless of whether or not they are married or in a civil partnership.
Whilst a known donor is generally asked to agree to the same anonymity requirements as an unknown donor, the situation can be complicated by their relationship as a friend or family member with the parent/s.
Donor conception: Conceiving with a known donor using artificial insemination at home
Many women ask a close male friend or non-blood relation to donate sperm, so that they can conceive at home. You will not have the benefit of the screening that a clinic would undertake, so there needs to be a high level of trust between you. Make sure that you ask your donor to produce his medical history and get tested for sexually transmitted diseases.
Whether or not the donor is considered the legal parent is down to you and your donor. You could choose to put your donor’s name on the birth certificate, which would make him the legal parent and give him parental responsibility. Often, it is not intended for the donor to be the legal parent so the donor is not named on the certificate.
If you conceive using donor sperm outside of a licensed clinic and are not married or in a civil partnership, the donor is likely to be considered your child’s legal parent, although he will not have parental responsibility unless you name him on the birth certificate.
At present, if you are not married or in a civil partnership with your partner and conceive at home using donor sperm, your partner cannot be the child’s legal parent and will not be named on the birth certificate. In these circumstances, the only way for your partner to become a legal parent of the child would be adoption, although they may be able to acquire parental responsibility for the child in other ways.
If you are married or in a civil partnership, the donor will not be considered the legal parent of a child conceived using artificial insemination out of a licensed clinic. If you want your spouse to be a legal parent, you should name them on the birth certificate; this will also grant them parental responsibility.
Donor conception: important note
In this blog, the word ‘donor’ refers to a man who has donated sperm for artificial insemination. If a child is conceived during intercourse, the biological father is not considered to be a donor. Instead, he will always be the child’s legal parent, regardless of whether or not he is named on the birth certificate.
For specialist advice, please get in touch to arrange to speak to one of our experienced family lawyers.