Parentage can take different forms and mean different things legally and practically. The term parentage encompasses biological, social and legal parentage, each with its own character and legal significance and varying relevance in family life.
Direct-to-consumer testing can raise complex issues around parentage and challenge established family narratives, just as it did for the donor-conceived siblings and families in Our Father.
A biological parent can be, but is not always, a legal parent. This could be because they are treated as an egg or sperm donor in law. Alternatively, they could be a biological and birth parent but not a legal parent because the child has been adopted. Moreover, a child could have been conceived via a surrogacy arrangement, with the intended parents holding legal parentage to the exclusion of the surrogate birth parent(s).
A social parent is someone who represents a parent-type figure in a child’s life but is not a biological or legal parent. A social parent can be the cohabiting partner of a child’s legal parent, who assumes the role of a parent on a day-to-day basis. A social parent can also include a family relative, step-parent or foster parent who assumes a parenting role in a child’s life.
A child can only have two legal parents under English law, whether through natural or assisted conception. Legal parentage is important because it:
– creates an enduring legal relationship between a parent and a child under English law, and legal relationships between wider family members (e.g grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins)
– confers financial rights and responsibilities on a legal parent for their child, including child maintenance responsibilities in both income and capital terms
– gives a child inheritance rights against their legal parent’s estate
– governs who can be registered on a child’s birth certificate
– gives rise to a claim for citizenship, nationality and a passport