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    Platonic Co-Parenting – Can I really have a baby with my friend?

    In recent months, the idea of platonic co-parenting has gained traction. A recent article in The Guardian on the topic was written by a woman who, after much back and forth, decided to have a baby with her gay best friend. The friends were both happily single, but wanted a child and were concerned about the social and financial implications of raising a child as a single parent.
    Platonic co-parenting can take a variety of different forms and can be entered into for a whole host of different reasons. It can be between an opposite sex ‘couple’, same sex, or even as three parents where the couple are unable to have children so bring in a friend who not only can be a donor but can be present as another parental figure.
    In essence, platonic co-parenting is when a child is raised by two or more people who are not, and have not in the past been, in a romantic relationship (although there may be a romantically involved same-sex couple as part of a three+ parental group). The child might be conceived by treatments like IVF, intracervical insemination (ICI) or intrauterine insemination (IUI). The prospective parents may choose to go down the surrogacy route or adopt a child.
    What does platonic co-parenting look like?
    Platonic co-parenting looks different for every set of parents. The reasons behind platonic co-parenting are as varied as how it can look in practise, but some reasons might be:

    Two happily single individuals each want to have a baby,
    Financial constraints mean an individual cannot afford to be a single parent,
    A same-sex couple want to have a child with a donor and the donor wants a relationship with the child.

    With any number of reasons for wanting to platonically co-parent, how it can look practically is unique to the situation. However, by definition, platonic co-parenting means that each parent is involved in the upbringing of the child, whether they are biologically connected or not.
    Each set of parents will need to come to an agreement about how conception will work, and what the practicalities will be once the baby is born. For example, for the woman and her gay best friend mentioned above, they came to an agreement that they would try ICI first to get pregnant, and then IVF. They discussed finances and decided on a 50/50 split, potential baby names, the baby’s surname and where the child, and the parents, would live (for the first year the father would move in with the mother and baby).
    In some cases, there are more than two parents. The law only recognises two legal parents; however, platonic co-parenting opens up opportunities for more communal parenting responsibility.
    In some cases, a same-sex couple may ask a close friend to be a donor, or a surrogate mother, and this friend becomes part of the family. In other examples, a gay couple and a lesbian couple might ‘join forces’ to have a four-parent family.
    There are also matchmaking apps now that allow prospective parents to meet each other or meet sperm donors.
    Is it legal/How can I make it legal?
    Platonic co-parenting is entirely legal.
    Complications can arise with the difficulties in law around parental responsibility and each platonic co-parenting relationship will be unique. However, if a parent wants to have legal guardianship of a child, this must be registered.
    For example, if a heterosexual ‘couple’ have a child together, the father can be officially recognised as the child’s legal parent by being named on the birth certificate.
    The law only allows for two legal parents, so where a group of co-parents want to raise a child, only two can be recognised as such. The woman who carries the child will automatically be recognised as the child’s legal parent. However, the law allows for more than two people to have parental responsibility, for example as step-parents, or grandparents.
    For families where there are more than two parents, it is important to consider what other arrangements and agreements you may need to put in place to grant parental responsibility over the child. This can be done through a ‘parental responsibility agreement’.
    More legal information around platonic co-parenting can be found here.
    What are the benefits of platonic co-parenting?
    There are a variety of benefits of platonic co-parenting, and these do depend on your unique situation. However, here are a few:

    It allows happily single individuals to become parents without the pressure of solo parenting,
    Sperm donors can have a more active role in the child’s life,
    Potentially more people with parental responsibility – this can mean more support and love for the child,
    It is another way for the LGBTQIA+ community to become parents without requiring romantic relationships with the opposite sex.

    Are there any downsides?
    As with parenting generally, there can be conflict in co-parenting relationships, which is why it is important to discuss legal, social, environmental, and physical factors before embarking on the journey. These can be made into a Co-Parenting Agreement, more widely known as a Parenting Plan, which, whilst not legally binding, help define the expectations of each parent and what agreements have been made.
    Communication is key in all parenting and the more open and transparent you are with your other co-parents, the better. It is important to get all your thoughts out on the table and discuss what compromises may need to be reached.
    The law can be complicated in areas such as surrogacy, and fertility treatments, so you might need to seek legal advice around these matters, and around seeking parental responsibility.
    If disagreements do arise, mediation can often help resolve difficulties and help co-parents reach amicable solutions.
    Useful Links
    What is platonic co-parenting?
    Surrogacy and parental orders
    Travelling abroad with different surnames
    What is parental responsibility?

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    The Impact of the Housing Crisis on Divorcing Couples

    Whilst the impact of the cost-of-living crisis is ongoing, the housing crisis in the UK has taken a front seat in the media. The market has seen record high mortgage rates which has become a battleground for divorcing couples, as well as sky-high rental prices and a lack of housing.
    These issues are having a significant impact on divorcing couples across the country.
    Housing is often a contentious subject in divorce proceedings, as couples fight over whether to keep the family home, and, if they do, who gets to live in it. As mortgage rates have risen, what to do with the marital property has become an increasingly tricky subject.
    What happens to the home in divorce?
    Generally, there are three options for divorcing couples when it comes to property. The first is to sell the house and pay off whatever mortgage is left. They then divide any equity. This money is used to put a deposit down on a new house or to rent a property.
    The second option is to keep the family home and the mortgage in both names. The couple agree to sell the property at a later date, for example when their youngest child turns 18.
    Finally, in some divorces, one party will buy out the other’s interest in the house and transfer ownership into their sole name.
    If you decide to sell the marital home, equity is apportioned according to various factors, including the borrowing capacity of each party.
    Nevertheless, being able to afford two separate properties is not always guaranteed especially in the current climate.
    If you are unable to come to an agreement with your ex-spouse about your marital property, it may be necessary for the court to step in. Although the court’s starting point will be a 50/50 split of the assets, the decision will be based on fairness, depending on the needs of each party, their future earning capacity, the wellbeing of any children.
    For those going into renting, no-fault evictions are a concern. The government has again delayed the Renters (Reform) Bill. This piece of legislation would improve security for renters as it would impose restrictions and obligations on private landlords, preventing them from evicting tenants without proof under Section 21 of the Housing Act.
    What options are there?
    The housing crisis is making property decisions increasingly difficult. Combined with the impact of the cost-of-living crisis, couples going through divorce are having to think outside the box.
    Birdnesting is one such avenue. This is where the children stay in the family home, and their parents rotate into and out of the house. Each parent will have a set amount of time in the house, dependent on the child arrangement agreement.
    However, this means that they will also need a separate living arrangement, but many turn to friends or family as a temporary solution.
    However, this is not always possible. As the housing crisis continues, we will likely see more divorcing couples coming up with creative solutions to the housing issues.
    It is important to discuss all the avenues available to you with a lawyer. When there has been full financial disclosure, negotiations can begin on what the marital pot will allow.
    Useful Links
    Property in Divorce – what you need to know
    How to financially plan for your divorce: Watch on YouTube
    Top 3 Financial Considerations
    Budgeting Solo in the Cost of Living Crisis: Watch on YouTube
    Can I afford to divorce my partner?
    Dangers of a DIY Divorce: Listen on Spotify
    Taking control of your finances on separation and beyond: Listen on Spotify More

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    How to manage the Cost-of-Christmas Crisis

    It’s the most wonderful time of the year!
    But it’s also one of the most expensive.
    The Cost of Christmas Crisis, as it has been coined, is taking its toll again this year. Recent research from easymoney has revealed that people are cutting down on their Christmas spending this year, as the cost-of-living crisis has an ongoing impact. 59% of us are looking to make cuts this year, with 55% of respondents stating that whilst they usually have an extra savings pot put aside for Christmas, they have saved less than planned.
    Financial Planner Jodie Phelps has put together some top tips on how to manage your money in the Cost of Christmas Crisis when the purse strings are tighter than ever.

    Be aware of the potential for emotional spending during the holidays. Stay mindful of your emotions and instead of using retail therapy as a coping mechanism write a list of other things you enjoy doing so when you feel yourself about to spend do the other things on your list instead (eg. take a bath, go for a run, call a friend)
    BUT, recognise the emotional challenges that may arise during the holidays and prioritise self-care; allocate budget for activities that bring you joy and contribute to your well-being
    Develop a budget that reflects your changed financial circumstances and keep track of your spending
    Create a list of people you want to buy gifts for and allocate a specific amount for each person
    Consider creative and thoughtful gifts that don’t necessarily have to be expensive (eg. photo collages, scrap books, experiences). Remember, the holidays are about spending time with loved ones and creating meaningful memories, not just about the gifts.
    If you have a large family or friend group, consider setting limits on the amount spent on gifts or participating in a Secret Santa
    Plan your holiday meals in advance and create a shopping list. This can help you avoid last-minute, impulse food purchases/takeaways
    Be mindful of impulse purchases, especially when faced with holiday sales and promotions
    Look for discounts, compare prices, and consider using cashback or price-tracking tools to find the best deals
    After the holidays, review your spending and assess what worked well and what didn’t. Use this information to plan for the next holiday season.
    Make a note of your Christmas pay date when budgeting, as it’s usually earlier in December. Plan for the long stretch between Christmas pay day and January pay day
    Start saving a monthly amount for next Christmas so that next year you have money allocated for you to enjoy Christmas.

    You can find out more about Jodie on her LinkedIn.
    Relationship Tensions
    Financial tensions are a huge driver in divorce enquiries, and in a survey that we conducted, 60% of respondents said that the crisis was negatively affecting their relationship.
    If you do find that tensions around money build between you and your partner around this time of year, here are some suggestions on how to safeguard your relationship at Christmas. It’s important to remember that Christmas does not cause divorce and relationship breakdown. However, it can expose pre-existing issues, so getting to the root of the problem is very important.
    Stowe Solicitor Abi Jones has some top tips on reducing tensions around the festive season:

    Communicate – communication is central to healthy relationships and talking through your worries with your partner can help to alleviate pressure
    Lean on friends or family members outside of your relationship for support if needed
    Figure out where your priorities are, and if they are different to your partner’s
    If you have differing priorities, try to compromise and find where your middle ground lies
    Consider speaking to a financial planner or another professional – you can find our recommended partners in our Divorce Directory
    Try to focus on the positives, even if they seem insignificant. Small changes can make big differences over time
    Come up with interesting ways to celebrate this time of year together without the pressure of money
    Try to have some time together. Christmas can be a very busy time so spending time with each other is essential. It does not have to be big or expensive. It could be as simple as having a movie night together when the children are in bed.

    First Christmas After Separation
    Abi discusses how to manage your first Christmas after separation.
    It may be that this is your first Christmas after divorce or relationship breakdown. If this is the case, you may be more worried about money than you usually are as you may well have gone from a dual income household to single income. Not only this, but the routine and traditions of the day may also suddenly be different.

    Create experiences, rather than physical gifts
    Downsize your giving
    Use second-hand website such as Vinted or ebay
    Do Secret Santa instead of buying gifts for everyone
    Make home-made gifts
    Keep the celebrations small
    Don’t be tempted by payday loans, as this may cause more issues later on
    If you have young children, toy appeals may be available. Certain charities have toy appeals where individuals can donate toys which are then distributed between families
    Try not to compare your Christmas to others, either of your past or other people’s
    Manage the expectations of any children – let them know that change is normal but ensure they are informed of what changes, scheduling, what will be happening, where and when.

    Remember that Christmas is one day. There is a great deal of pressure for Christmas Day to be perfect, but it is just one day in the year.
    Think about how you want to spend your Christmas. Would you like to spend it with a friend, with family or even alone. This is an opportunity to make new traditions.
    Lastly, Christmas does not necessarily have to take place on 25th December. If this is the first year you do not have the children after going through a divorce or separation you can always pause your Christmas until the day after or have it before.
    Useful Links
    Financial Wellbeing with Jodie Phelps or watch on YouTube
    Surviving Christmas after Separation
    Child arrangements at Christmas
    Christmas alone with divorce and break-up coach Claire Macklin
    Budgeting solo during a cost-of-living crisis: Listen on Spotify or Watch on YouTube
    Supporting children through divorce: Listen on Spotify More

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    Changes to IVF Legislation

    Changes to Fertility Laws
    The government recently announced an upcoming change to fertility legislation which will lessen the discrimination that same-sex female couples experience in trying to conceive via reciprocal IVF.
    At the moment, female same-sex couples who are looking to have a child via the route of reciprocal IVF – meaning one woman provides her egg and the other carries the child – are required to undergo a screening for infectious diseases, including hepatitis B, hepatitis C and rubella. This can cost up to £1000.
    However, heterosexual couples going through the same process do not need to have this screening.
    The government have now announced that this will be changed, removing the additional barrier and significant extra cost only applied to female same-sex couples.
    Furthermore, changes will be brought in for same-sex couples where one or both partners have HIV, but the viral load is undetectable. In these situations, the couple will now be able to access IVF treatment, including known sperm or egg cell donation to friends or relatives.
    Stowe Partner Gemma Davison investigates these changes in more detail.
    The options for IVF treatment have been expanded with advancements in science and technology, allowing more couples to start a family through this method. However, there are still obstacles for many in accessing this treatment, particularly for same-sex couples who have additional hurdles and cost specific to themselves to overcome. This has meant ongoing inequality between heterosexual couples and same-sex couples who want to become parents.
    The government’s announcement that the cost associated with extra tests that female same-sex couples must undergo if they wish to pursue reciprocal IVF is very welcome, and long overdue.
    The changes to laws around HIV load in same-sex couples is also welcome, and will mean that, for those individuals and couples where the viral load is undetectable, access to IVF treatment will be opened.
    These changes, when they are enacted, will work to reduce the inequality that exists between same-sex couples and heterosexual couples when it comes to accessing fertility treatment. However, they will not completely remove the barriers that exist, particularly around costs, although the government has committed to removing all the financial barriers associated with IVF/fertility treatment.
    For example, at the moment, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidelines suggest that women under 40 should be offered three cycles of IVF funded by the NHS if:

    They have been trying to get pregnant through regular unprotected sex for two years
    Or they have not got pregnant after 12 cycles of artificial insemination

    However, if tests show that there is no chance of naturally conceiving a baby and that IVF is the only treatment likely to result in conception, the woman should be referred immediately for IVF.
    Currently, this is guidance only and not universally adopted by integrated care boards for their local area. Essentially, then, it is a postcode lottery for treatment and again, in many cases, female same-sex couples suffer inequality and huge costs if they want to conceive through IVF.
    In the Women’s Health Strategy (August 2022), the government committed to removing all financial barriers, including the requirement for female same-sex couples to pay for 6 artificial insemination cycles privately before they are eligible for NHS funded IVF. Heterosexual couples are do not have to self-fund any treatments before being eligible for NHS IVF treatment.
    Unfortunately, we are still awaiting this change. And, until the change in fertility legislation that has been announced by the government becomes law, there are still financial and practical barriers that mean same-sex couples face inequality in their journey to parenthood.
    Hopefully, we will see more change and action soon.
    Useful Links
    Fertility Network UK
    Our Child Law Solicitors
    Surrogacy in the UK: Watch on Youtube
    Surrogacy in 2 minutes: Watch on Youtube
    Embryo Storage after Divorce More

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    November Stowe Support roundup

    Stowe Support is a dedicated home for Stowe’s free resources designed to help inform and support anyone with family law concerns.
    With new blogs, guides, podcasts, videos and events shared each month, here’s a handy Stowe Support roundup from the past month in case you missed anything.
    Here’s your monthly roundup of Stowe Support resources in case you missed anything.
    Latest blogs from Stowe
    Divorce finances: How DIY divorce can backfire
    What is a Financial Settlement and How Does It Work?
    Blended families and stepparents: A beginners guide
    Unique Challenges of LGBTQIA+ Divorce
    I’m not the ‘breadwinner’ in my divorce
    How do separated parents split Christmas?
    Watch recent webinars
    Cardiff Break Up Club: Surviving Christmas after separation
    Stowe talks 23/24: Parenting alongside a narcissist with Dr Supriya McKenna
    Listen to Stowe talks podcasts on Spotify

    Stowe Support
    To explore our full range of resources dedicated to helping people with family law matters, visit Stowe Support.
    Here you’ll find a wealth of helpful guides, videos and blogs on divorce and separation, finances, children, domestic abuse, cohabitation, alternative parenting, mediation, as well as support with relationships and wellness. More

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    Introducing Stowe talks podcast series 4

    Stowe talks podcast
    Series 4 of Stowe talks podcast and videos series has begun. 
    As ever, in each episode hosts Liza and Matt are joined by a special guest to explore a specific topic in detail.
    Alongside our expert guests, in Stowe talks series 4 we explore:

    Parenting alongside a narcissist
    The dangers of DIY divorce
    How to prepare for your financial settlement
    Supporting teenagers through divorce
    Prenups, postnups and petnups
    The unique challenges of a relationship break down in the LGBTQIA+ community
    Creating financial wellbeing following separation
    Supporting male victims of domestic abuse
    Building your family through surrogacy.

    The latest episodes
    Series 4 of Stowe talks begins with ‘Parenting alongside a narcissist’, a 2-part conversation with renowned narcissist expert Dr Supriya McKenna.
    Building on our previous episodes, in part one Dr Supriya starts by explaining what narcissistic personality disorder is and how this manifests in their behaviour, especially during divorce and parenting.
    We then continue the conversation in part two, looking at learning to manage the narcissist behaviour, how to best support your children, dealing with legal and financial abuse, the family court, and learning how to raise the threshold of what triggers you.
    Quick links
    Listen to Stowe talks on spotify
    Watch Stow talks on YouTube More

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    October Stowe Support roundup

    Stowe Support is a dedicated home for Stowe’s free resources designed to help inform and support anyone with family law concerns.
    With new blogs, guides, podcasts, videos and events shared each month, here’s a handy Stowe Support roundup from the past month in case you missed anything.
    Here’s your monthly roundup of Stowe Support resources in case you missed anything.
    Latest blogs from Stowe
    What is financial wellbeing?
    World Mental Health Day: wellbeing during divorce
    Labour announce commitment to cohabitation reform
    Adopting a stepchild
    World Menopause Day
    Islamic divorce in the UK
    What happens if I’m separated but not divorced?
    What to do if you think your marriage is over
    Book your free webinar place
    Cardiff Break Up Club – Surviving Christmas after separation
    Stowe Talks – How to build a happy blended family with Nichole Farrow
    Watch recent webinars
    Stowe Talks – Creating financial wellbeing following divorce or separation
    Listen to Stowe talks podcasts on Spotify
    Our next series of Stowe talks podcast will be launched soon.
    In the mean time, you can click to catch up on previous episodes and follow us!
    Stowe Support
    To explore our full range of resources dedicated to helping people with family law matters, visit Stowe Support.
    Here you’ll find a wealth of helpful guides, videos and blogs on divorce and separation, finances, children, domestic abuse, cohabitation, alternative parenting, mediation, as well as support with relationships and wellness. More

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    Adopting a stepchild

    This week is national adoption week 2023. This annual initiative is designed to raise awareness of adoption and its multi-faceted experiences.
    As a family law firm, adoption is matter we support clients with often. And with over 1.1 million children in England and Wales estimated to live in a stepfamily, we’re often asked ‘how can I adopt my stepchild?’
    When couples have children from a prior relationship that live with them, and the step-parents have full day-to-day responsibility for the care of the stepchildren, they may choose to formalise their connection with these children.
    Adopting a stepchild is one way of doing this.
    Here, Resolution accredited adoption specialist and Stowe Senior Associate, Lucy Birch, answers some stepchild adoption FAQs.
    Is there a stepchild adoption assessment?
    If you choose to adopt your stepchild, you will be assessed just as you would if going through a ‘closed adoption’ process using an adoption agency. This ensures that the decision reached is in the best interests of the child.
    The assessment includes a report prepared by a social worker that includes information about you, your partner, the child, and the other birth parent.
    This report will inform the court so they can choose whether to grant the stepchild adoption court order.
    If your application is granted, you will then share parental responsibility for the child – alongside your spouse or partner.
    When and how do you take on parental responsibility during step-parent adoption?
    Successfully obtaining an adoption order from the court under the Adoption and Children Act 2002 provides the adoptive step-parent with parental responsibility for the child.
    The legal implications of this order are far reaching. It’s worthwhile highlighting that when the stepchild adoption order is granted, parental responsibility of the other birth parent (bar the partner or spouse in step-parent adoption cases), and anyone else with parental responsibility for the child, are extinguished.
    The legal significance of the adoption order is therefore great and careful consideration and advice needs to be taken when proceeding with stepchild adoption.
    What does Parental Responsibility entail?
    There is no legal checklist for what parental responsibility entails, however the law accepts that generally, it includes the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities, and authority which by law a parent of the child has in relation to the child and their property.
    In practical terms this encompasses many things, such as decisions about schooling, medical treatment, or religious decisions for the child.
    Having parental responsibility has a significant impact from a legal perspective, including the types of legal orders that you are able to apply to the court for and whether permission is required.
    Importantly, if you have parental responsibility for a child, generally speaking you do not need permission to apply for a variety of orders under the children act.
    Can you change your stepchild’s surname?
    The application for an adoption order is called an A58 form and within the form you can specify what you would like the child’s new name to be recognised as on the adoption certificate.
    Some people decide to change the child’s surname to reflect their new family set-up.
    What are common issues of stepchild adoption safeguarding checks?
    Many of the applications I have dealt with in the UK include adoptive parents who have lived in various other countries around the world. It is worth noting at the outset that upon being matched with a social worker to work with you during the adoption process, they are likely to carry out safeguarding checks not only in the UK but also in the other countries you have lived in to ensure there are no safeguarding risks to the child.
    These checks can take a long time to conduct and conclude, particularly if the jurisdiction in question is notably inefficient at record keeping.
    I therefore always advise parents to make enquiries about stepchild adoption at the earliest opportunity if they are considering applying for an adoption order.
    Do we need the other birth parent’s consent?
    Assuming the other birth parents has parental responsibility, the question of the other birth parent’s consent is a crucial aspect of stepchild adoption proceedings and will determine whether the proceedings are what we call “non-contested” or “contested”.
    I always advise clients to make enquiries regarding the birth parents’ respective position at the earliest point, so that we can advise accordingly.
    If the other birth parent does not give consent, it is necessary to prepare a statement of facts to accompany your stepchild adoption application detailing why the court should dispense with the birth parents’ consent.
    The important things to note here are of course the attachment to the child in question, for example how often has the birth parent been in touch with that child?
    I do warn clients that there is always a possibility that the other birth parent will make a cross application for a child arrangements order once they have been served with adoption proceedings.
    If the other birth parent do not consent and a contested hearing is required, the court will hear evidence from all parties before they establish whether it’s right to remove the need for the other birth parent’s consent.
    In all instances, the fundamental priority of the family court is the child’s welfare.
    Related links
    Step-parent adoption: Insight from a family lawyer
    Who can adopt?
    Stowe Guide: Adopting a Child
    Get in touch
    If you’re looking for advice regarding adopting a stepchild, please do contact our  Client Care Team to speak to one of our specialist lawyers. More