Rich Vaughn Blog: UK High Court Rules Surrogacy Law Discriminates Against Single Parents

High Court Rules UK Surrogacy Law Discriminates Against Single Parents

The UK High Court ruled today that UK’s surrogacy law, which bans single people from becoming legal parents via surrogacy, is in breach of the nation’s human rights laws, said colleague Natalie Gamble, who represented the single biological father of baby boy “Z” who brought the case.

While the surrogacy law still stands, today’s ruling almost certainly means it will be changed—great news for attorneys who practice international fertility law and for families.

Now 21 months old, Z was born via surrogacy in the United States. Despite the fact the surrogate, who lives in the U.S., is not biologically related to the boy, a UK court ruled that the surrogate had sole decision-making authority for Z, and denied Z’s biological father a parental order on the basis that under UK law only couples are allowed to apply for a parental order. Z was made a ward of the court. In today’s ruling, the High Court said the law “discriminates unfairly against both the father and Z.”

Although the government has not yet announced any plans to propose that Parliament change the law, it is expected to do so. “Parliamentary guidance makes clear that where a declaration is made, the government is expected to respond swiftly and fully,” the plaintiffs wrote in a prepared statement. “The Ministry of Justice should be notified and the government should set out their plans to remedy the incompatibility within four months.” Of the 20 declarations of incompatibility with the Human Rights Act the High Court has previously made, all but one have resulted in changes to the law.

My colleague, Natalie Gamble, whose firm specializes in surrogacy cases, said the High Court decision will help rescue Baby Z and dozens of other children born to single parents in the UK from “legal limbo.”

“The UK has a proud tradition of taking a progressive approach to assisted reproduction and non-traditional families,” Gamble said, “and this is a glaring anomaly which conflicts with our most fundamental values of protecting children’s welfare.”

Advocates for assisted reproductive technology have called for a review of UK surrogacy law in existence since the 1980s. Currently the law treats the surrogate and her husband as legal parents of the child born via surrogacy, even though there may be no biological relationship, and requires the intended parents to obtain a UK Parental Order in addition to whatever parental orders they may have obtained where the surrogacy was conducted.

The UK issued 295 parental orders in 2015, but many parents don’t apply for parental orders. Estimates are than between 1,000 and 2,000 are born via surrogacy each year, but there are no records for how many are born to single parents.

In his decision, Sir James Munby, President of the Family Division of the UK High Court, wrote that the standard means for establishing parental authority of intended parents in surrogacy cases throughout Europe is via adoption. He cautioned that his ruling does not necessarily mean the adoption requirement is incompatible with human rights law. Rather his ruling is based on the fact that UK law allows couples to apply for a parental order but does not allow single parents to do so and thus discriminates against single parents.

“This is in reality, a discrimination case. That is the basis of the concession,” Munby wrote.


Rich Vaughn
Richard Vaughn

Attorney Rich Vaughn is founder and principal of International Fertility Law Group, one of the world’s largest and best-known law firms focused exclusively on assisted reproductive technology, or ART, including in vitro fertilization (IVF), surrogacy, sperm donation or egg donation. Rich is co-author of the book “Developing A Successful Assisted Reproduction Technology Law Practice,” American Bar Association Publishing, 2017.

Peiya Wang
Paralegal (律师助理)

Peiya Wang joined IFLG as a paralegal in 2015, where she manages surrogacy, egg donation and parental establishment cases and provides translation services for many of IFLG’s international clients. Peiya received her bachelor’s degree from Beijing Technologies and Business University, where she majored in Marketing. She moved to the United States in 2012 to attend Northeast University in Boston, Massachusetts, receiving a Master of Science degree in Global Studies and International Affairs in 2014. Peiya moved to Los Angeles in 2015 and received her paralegal certification from UCLA Extension. When away from the office, Peiya is a dragon boat paddler and a ballroom dancer, where she favors Rumbas and Cha-chas. She is fluent in Mandarin and English.

Luis Sosa

Luis R. Sosa joined IFLG as a paralegal in 2016, where he enjoys pursuing his passion for family and reproductive law. While working toward his bachelor’s degree at Florida International University, Luis worked as a paralegal and legal assistant for family law litigation firms in Miami and Washington, D.C. As a paralegal and case manager for IFLG, Luis, who is bilingual in English and Spanish, manages surrogacy, egg donation and other reproductive law cases. In addition to spending time with husband Randy and dog Marty, Luis enjoys being outdoors and appreciating the arts.

Toni Hughes

After receiving her B.S. in Business Management, Toni joined IFLG to pursue her dream of working in the legal field. As a Paralegal with over 10 years of experience in the assisted reproduction technology field, Toni is our Managing Paralegal, responsible for training and managing our paralegal staff. From drafting legal documents to assisting our clients with post-birth matters, Toni embraces the challenge of learning something new in this field each day. Besides spending time with her son, Jordan, Toni enjoys exploring new things, cooking, spending time with family and friends, and serving as a Youth Advisor for “Next Generation.”

Miesha Cowart
Financial Coordinator

Miesha Cowart joined IFLG as a financial specialist in 2014 following a successful career in development and business finance. Miesha previously worked for 10 years in the construction industry as a controller and for 13 years as Development Coordinator for the non-profit U.S. Fund for UNICEF. In her free time, Miesha works with “Next Generation” at her church. “They are my heartbeats!” she says of the youth in her community.


Kim has over 25 years of experience in the legal field and has worked exclusively in surrogacy and assisted reproduction law since 1999. Kim is a senior case manager of surrogacy and egg donation cases, and is also responsible for managing parental establishment cases and interacting with IFLG’s Of Counsel attorneys across the country. With three children of her own, Kim understands the importance of family and finds working in this area of law a rewarding experience.

Rich Vaughn

Attorney Rich Vaughn combined his personal passion as a father of twin boys born via assisted reproductive technology (ART) with more than 20 years of experience in business and technology law to build International Fertility Law Group. Today IFLG is one of the most successful and best-known law firms in the world focused exclusively on fertility law, helping thousands of intended parents through empathetic listening, compassionate guidance, and unmatched legal expertise. As an advocate for reproductive freedom, Rich also contributes his knowledge and time to improving the understanding and practice of ART law, most recently as a founder of and speaker at the first Cambridge University International Surrogacy Symposium held in June 2019, as immediate past chair of the American Bar Association ART Committee, and as a popular presenter to law schools, faculty and advocacy organizations all over the world.

Elizabeth Tamayo

Elizabeth received her Bachelors of Science degree in Criminal Justice from California State University of Los Angeles. Shortly after graduating, she continued her education at the University of California, Los Angeles where she obtained her Paralegal certificate. Elizabeth is fluent in Spanish and has been in the legal field since 2009. She is excited to be a part of the IFLG Team helping families realize their dreams.

Sunny Chien

Sunny joined IFLG as a paralegal in 2017, where she manages surrogacy, egg donation and parental establishment cases for many of IFLG’s international clients. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Philosophy from California State University of Los Angeles, where she graduated cum laude. Sunny is bilingual in English and Mandarin and has extensive experience as a legal assistant and paralegal at Los Angeles-area law firms. She is excited to be part of the IFLG team. In her spare time, Sunny enjoys spending time with her family and their dog, going to the beach, cooking, and being outdoors.

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Molly O'Brien

Fertility law attorney Molly O’Brien began working in the field of assisted reproduction technology (ART) in 2005, at an egg donation agency and a surrogacy agency where she became familiar with all aspects of in-vitro fertilization, egg donation and the financial aspects of surrogacy. Since becoming an attorney in 2011, Molly has drafted and negotiated surrogacy, egg donation, sperm donation embryo donation agreements for hundreds of her clients all over the world.