Platonic co-parenting – A passing trend or a legitimate option?

Platonic co-parenting, where a child is raised by two or more individuals who are not in a romantic relationship, is becoming increasingly popular.

This type of parenting arrangement (also known as elective co-parenting) is an alternative to traditional family structures and it’s certainly gaining traction for various reasons, including personal choice and life circumstances.

However, it’s highly complex in its legal implications, mainly because the law does not automatically confer legally binding status on the parenthood agreement between the co-parents.

In many ways, we see similar legal challenges found in surrogacy agreements.

The depth or longevity of your relationship does not necessarily impact your compatibility as co-parents, but, in our experience, we recommend that clients seeking a co-parenting arrangement look for someone with shared values, lifestyle compatibility, and outlooks on life.

What is the definition of a platonic co-parenting agreement?

Legally, a platonic co-parenting agreement is a document drafted and agreed upon by individuals who plan to jointly raise a child without being in a romantic relationship, outlining their intentions and responsibilities towards the child.

In essence, it documents the co-parents’ expectations, covering various aspects such as the child’s name, medical procedures, childcare, education, religious upbringing, and financial arrangements.

The agreement identifies potential disagreements and establishes moral accountability, although it is not enforceable by law in the UK.

Are they legally binding?

Unfortunately, co-parenting agreements, including those in platonic arrangements, are not legally binding in the UK.

(But that doesn’t mean they aren’t useful in certain circumstances).

They do not determine who the child’s legal parents are, and in case of a dispute, the family court is not obliged to adhere to the agreement’s terms.

Instead, the court can order something different if it considers that to be in the child’s best interests.

While they aren’t enforceable in a legal sense, they can be very helpful in setting the foundations for successful co-parenting.

They provide evidence of the initial intentions of the parties involved, which may carry weight in court in the event of a dispute.

More importantly, these agreements actually help to avoid disputes by ensuring clarity and consensus from the start and by creating a solid framework for all parties to follow.

In terms of legal parentage, the woman who carries the baby is automatically recognised as the legal parent at birth and is registered as such on the birth certificate.

If a single woman wishes to co-parent with a man, he may also become the child’s legal parent by being named on the birth certificate.

This can be done at the time of registration or through a statutory declaration of acknowledgement of parentage.

British law only allows for a maximum of two legal parents so in arrangements involving more than two people, decisions regarding who is granted parental responsibility need to be well thought out.

Which laws apply to platonic co-parenting?

A notable case that sheds light on how the law approaches platonic co-parenting is X & Anor v B & Anor [2022].

This case involved two male friends who had a child via surrogacy.

The judgment in this case confirmed that ‘living as partners in an enduring family relationship’ does not necessarily mean living together under the same roof as romantic or sexual partners in an exclusive relationship.

It showed the judiciary’s recognition of diverse family structures and its willingness to interpret the myriad ways families can now be formed – which is a positive step for people looking to co-parent without being in a romantic relationship.

The other important framework for this issue is the Children Act 1989.

While a child in the UK can only have two legal parents, multiple individuals can have parental responsibility for a child (as per Section 2(5) of the Act).

This means that, while they might not all be recognised as parents, a group of two or more can be recognised as having parental responsibility.

What to do if you want to go down the platonic co-parenting route?

Firstly, and somewhat aside from our role as legal advisers, we recommend you seriously consider this choice and put a great deal of thought into its implications.

It’s not easy raising children and the consequences of any action that directly infringes on a child’s wellbeing is punishable by law.

Having said that, if you wish to enter into a co-parenting agreement, we can help you draft a contract that could outline your wishes and protect your rights in court, should a dispute ever arise.

Please get in touch if you’d like more advice about co-parenting or any other aspect of family law.


Hayley Crossman-Shaw

Associate Solicitor

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