When Ben and Lee decided they wanted to raise a child together, they began by researching the various options available to them, including adoption and fostering. After a lot of thought and consideration they chose to use the surrogacy pathway as they wanted to fulfil a fundamental need they have; that of having a child genetically linked to them. They contacted a reputable surrogacy agency who worked with them to identify a suitable surrogate to carry their child.
The surrogacy agency was able to inform them about parental orders, what they were and the process of applying for one. As biological father, Ben’s name was on their daughter Eleanor’s birth certificate, but Lee’s was not. Having a parental order in place would mean that Lee’s name would also be on the birth certificate and both would have legal parental responsibility to make important decisions about Eleanor’s life, including her education and medical care. “It was important that Lee’s name was included on the birth certificate so that our family would be complete,” says Ben. “We would also need the parental order in place to do the practicalities, such as applying for Eleanor’s passport and registering her at the dentist’s. These are the things you just don’t think of until they come along!”
Ben and Lee started their application for a parental order the day after Eleanor was born. Although they realised their application couldn’t be handled before Eleanor had reached six weeks of age, they wanted to get the ball rolling. Ben wrote a letter to the court explaining the reason they were applying early was because they wanted to be punctual, responsible and have peace of mind knowing the process was underway.
A Parental Order Reporter from Cafcass was assigned to consider Eleanor’s best interests and help the court understand the nature of the surrogacy arrangement. She spoke to Ben and Lee and compiled information about their surrogacy journey, and also carried out some important safeguarding checks.
“Initially, we were apprehensive of Cafcass as we didn’t know who they were,” Ben says. “We received the court papers which informed us that a Cafcass officer would be assigned to our case. We didn’t know what to expect but Maureen, our Parental Order Reporter, explained everything to us and we were reassured.
“We were also unfamiliar with the court setting. Our case was seen by the Senior Judge at the County Court and the environment there was very foreign and quite intimidating. Maureen knew the judge and was familiar with the court setting which put us at ease. She was also able to advise us on court etiquette – I made sure to wear a smart suit and tie!”
To assist the process, Ben and Lee ensured they had clear records of their surrogacy arrangement, including bank statements and records from the surrogacy agency, as well as other important documentation such as Eleanor’s birth certificate. They were mindful of the legalities and made sure to record everything carefully, submitting the right documentation and evidence to the court on time. By organising their evidence in advance it was easy for their Parental Order Reporter to provide all the relevant information to the court to help inform its decision on the application.
Ben offers some advice to other couples who want to apply for a parental order: “Make sure you are organised, aware of the deadlines and fill in all forms as honestly and accurately as possible. No question is a silly question and it’s important that you speak to your Parental Order Reporter about any concerns - we found that being able to talk any issues through with ours relieved a lot of stress. They are not there to put up barriers. Communication over the phone helped us to keep things running smoothly.”