Our story started a few years ago when we discussed what it is to be a parent. Warren and I both believed that to have a child is a blessing and we felt that we would make great parents. We first looked into adoption and then discovered surrogacy which led us to talking with a surrogate in South Africa. When we had decided we wanted to start a family using this process, I informed my mother and family in the UK.
When I did this my sister asked why we hadn’t asked her to be a surrogate as she was more than willing to help us have a family. I trawled the internet looking at website after website and I passed all the information over to my sister to read as I wanted her to be fully informed of what she could expect. From conducting my own research day in and day out, my sister also doing the same, the picture of surrogacy became clearer and clearer.
I first heard of the parental order through looking at online blogs and people’s comments they’d put on the internet as they’d been working through the surrogacy process. During my research I kept coming across the phrase ‘parental order’ – over and over. I had never heard of it so began to look into it to find out what it was all about. I realised that obtaining a parental order meant that our status as parents of our child would be final and we would have the birth certificate re-issued with both of our names on: In my mind this would be the total affirmation that our family was complete.
The process was fairly straight forward. In hindsight, I think contacting the court well in advance helped the whole process from the outset. I had completed so much research that by the time Alexia was born, I knew the exact date I would submit our application for a parental order to the court. I called the magistrates’ court and collected the paperwork for the parental order weeks in advance. There was clear documentation of the forms we needed to fill in and how to proceed, although I was unsure of the timeline of the application process. I looked into the requirements and who needed to be involved. We informed the midwife of the parental order process before we had applied to court so that she could arrange for the local authority to contact us, make checks and assess my sister’s situation.
My main concern during the process was that I was missing something. I feared I’d be failing my family if we got to court and the application was turned down because I had missed something. My sister was initially worried because she thought Cafcass was an organisation there to find fault in our living conditions, way of life or our relationship in order to reject the application. None of us had ever heard of Cafcass. I wondered, if the local authority had been involved to date, why another organisation accountable to the Government was involved too. I realised that Cafcass is only appointed by the court once proceedings have started and they carry out their own checks independent of the local authority. After the initial hearing the Parental Order Reporter's job was to gather information on our situation and submit a report to the court. The court then makes a decision on the application at the final hearing.
After our Cafcass officer introduced herself, she told us her role and explained the reports she needed to make. She was very helpful, came to see us in the house and interviewed us as part of her work, and explained to us what she was doing every step of the way. Overall, the process of applying wasn’t too complicated; we just had one hiccup in the process. We didn’t know the timeline for the application process so didn’t have enough time in the UK to complete it.
Warren and I think it’s really important to get a parental order as it secures your rights as a parent and also allows you to carry out the more general practicalities of being a parent. In South Africa this is issued before fertilisation takes place and parents have legal responsibility as soon as the baby is born - I found it difficult to understand why UK law dictates a wait of six weeks before an application can be made. We could have just left things and moved to South Africa leaving my sister on the birth certificate; however, we knew that many organisations require signatures from both parents, including schools, clubs, doctors, applying for passports, traveling. This list is endless. As a parent I knew I didn’t want to have to get a signature from my partner for little things to do with school.