Surrogacy with a family member in the UK

UK surrogacy arrangements between family members are pretty common. Sisters, sisters-in-law, cousins, nieces and even aunts and mums can act as surrogates for intended parents in the UK.  It’s not surprising that the people closest to those going through difficult fertility journeys or wanting a family as a gay or single man may offer to help, and familial surrogacy arrangements can be wonderful.

Is surrogacy with a family member legal in the UK?

It is legal to do surrogacy with a family member in the UK, although – as is the case for all UK surrogacy arrangements – the law is a little back to front. Under UK law, the surrogate is the legal mother (regardless of who the biological parents of the baby are) and if she is married her husband or wife is the legal father/second parent. This can produce some odd outcomes in family surrogacy cases, such as a brother and a sister, or the grandparents, being the legal parents initially.

However, the intended parents can apply for a parental order after the birth, and this fully transfers parenthood to them and triggers the issue of a replacement birth certificate.  The legal process also does not stop the handover of the baby: the intended parents are typically present at the birth and care for their child from immediately afterwards.

As with any UK surrogacy arrangement, it is sensible to get legal advice at an early stage to understand the legal process and requirements (and most fertility clinics require early advice). You can find out more about how the law works for UK surrogacy from our sibling organisation NGA Law.

Can someone’s sister be their surrogate?

In the UK, a sister can absolutely be a surrogate for her sibling, whether she is helping her sister, brother or sister-in-law/brother-in-law.

If a sister is acting as a surrogate for her brother and the baby is being conceived with her brother’s sperm, then she will need to be a gestational surrogate rather than a traditional surrogate (which means that she is not using her own egg, but an egg from the intended mother or a donor). Apart from that, it is not a problem for a sister to act as a surrogate in the UK, even if the baby is her brother’s biological child, and in fact this is quite common.

Sometimes sisters act as traditional surrogates for siblings which means they also provide their own egg.  Normally, a sister who is acting as a traditional surrogate would conceive with sperm from her sibling’s partner (so her sister or brother’s husband or same-sex partner). That means the baby then has a direct or indirect biological connection with both intended parents (for example, a sister might act as a traditional surrogate for her brother and his same-sex partner, so that one dad is the biological father and the other is the biological uncle).

Can an intended parent’s aunt or mother act as a surrogate in the UK?

This is less common, but something we do see from time to time. It is important, as with any surrogate, to make sure that it is safe for the surrogate to carry a pregnancy and this won’t put her health, or the baby, at risk. As a mother or aunt acting as a surrogate is likely to be older than the intended parents, it is important to consider her age and health, and to get medical advice, before moving forward.

What are the advantages of surrogacy with a family member in the UK?

There is a shortage of surrogates in the UK, so if a family member offers to act as a surrogate, it can relieve intended parents of having a long and uncertain wait to find a UK surrogate.

Surrogacy within the family can also feel safer and more comfortable, given that surrogacy arrangements are not enforceable in the UK (which can create worry that either the surrogate or the intended parents could change their mind during the surrogacy process). In most cases, the bedrock of a successful surrogacy journey – trust – is already there in family relationships.

What are the challenges of surrogacy with a family member in the UK?

Navigating the surrogacy process

While family members may know everything about each other, that doesn’t mean they know a lot about surrogacy, and there is a lot to manage, including understanding the legal and emotional implications (it is typical to arrange legal advice and counselling), creating a surrogacy agreement (which is valuable even for surrogacy teams who already know each other well), navigating the fertility treatment process, managing the special aspects of a surrogate pregnancy, dealing with the legalities at the birth registration and afterwards, and more. It can be easy to skip some steps because you feel that they aren’t necessary within a family surrogacy arrangement, but actually they are no less important for a smooth journey than they are in any other surrogacy process.

Wider family dynamics

When surrogacy takes place within the family, it is important to think about the impact on long term relationships, because any difficulties that arise could have a ripple effect which could have implications long into the future. Surrogacy will give the surrogate a unique connection with the child she carries in addition to whatever familial relationship she would otherwise have, and everyone will still be part of the same family after the surrogacy process.  It can be important to create an agreed language that you will all share, and to make sure that wider family members are brought along with understanding and support. This is something to discuss, to think about when you are putting your surrogacy agreement together, and possibly something to explore in counselling.

Personal boundaries

Surrogates are often keen for the intend parents to be present at key fertility and pregnancy appointments, scans and of course the birth. While a surrogate helping a family member may feel no different, the pre-existing and ongoing familial relationships may mean there are sensitivities that you need to manage honestly. Consider how comfortable you are with each other being present at times when everyone might feel particularly vulnerable, for example during counselling sessions, gynaecological examinations and birth.  This is something to consider carefully when you are putting your surrogacy agreement together, and it can help to have the support of a professional third party.

Financial awkwardness

Surrogacy within the family is often considered a selfless gift by all involved, but it is still crucial not to overlook discussions around what expenses will be incurred and who will be responsible for them. The relationship between the surrogate and intended parents should be as balanced as possible, and it is important that awkwardness about money does not lead to the surrogate absorbing costs associated with the pregnancy unfairly just because she is a family member. Find out more about how much a UK surrogate can receive.

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