Alternative family structures
These days, family structures can often include single parents, step-parents, same sex parents and supportive grandparents. This brief guide explains some of the laws relating to alternative or extended family structures.
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What is an alternative family structure?
An alternative family structure is a non traditional family, such as same sex parents, single parents and co-parents. Traditional family structures have changed over the years - many couples have children together without wishing to get married, and many same sex couples now have children together too.
How does the law deal with alternative family structures?
Fortunately, family law has moved with the times, and can help you, regardless of how complex your extended or alternative family structure may be. We explain some of the laws that relate to family structures below, and if you need advice on any of these areas from an experienced family lawyer, feel free to call us on or and we will call you.
How does family law work for extended families?
One of the saddest things that can happen when parents separate is that members of a child's extended family - notably grandparents, aunts and uncles - will lose any opportunity to see them once the parents' relationship has ended.
This is particularly common if a relationship ended badly or there were existing tensions between extended family members. In cases like these, where contact between grandparents and grandchildren can't be amicably agreed, it is possible for grandparents to make an application for a , which a family court judge will consider, if it is in the child or children's best interests.
What happens when a child lives with grandparents?
Grandparents often take their grandchildren in when parents are struggling to cope: financially, emotionally or for many other reasons.
While this is perfectly natural, we sometimes recommend that if children are going to reside with their grandparents for any length of time, it is a good idea for the situation to be legally recognised through a child arrangement order or . These orders give grandparents additional legal rights such as parental responsibility.
How does the law affect civil partnerships?
A civil partnership has all of the same rights and responsibilities as marriage, so it's important to take the legal and financial implications very seriously.
That's why we advise couples to have a pre-civil partnership agreement, which is the legal equivalent of a for those about to marry. In the event your civil partnership has broken down, we can also advise you on how to go about the dissolution process, which is similar to a divorce in many respects.
Does the law affect donor and pre-conception agreements?
With many same-sex couples and single women now turning to sperm donors in order to start a family, it is important to understand the legal position with regard to donors.
Naturally, if you use an anonymous donor from a licensed clinic, complications at a later stage are less likely. However, if you choose a family friend to donate sperm, it is worth considering a donor agreement or pre-conception agreement before conception occurs, to establish what expectations and intentions all parties have at the outset.
However, it must be noted that these agreements are not enforceable as contracts, and that even donors who express no wish for parental contact at the outset may have a change of heart later.
In cases where this happens, while a donor agreement or pre-conception agreement is not enforceable, it will at least be taken into account by a family court judge, should disputes about child arrangements arise in the future.
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