U.K. Case Shows Unintended Consequences of DIY Surrogacy

A do-it-yourself project around the house is one thing, a do-it-yourself insemination of a surrogate is quite another —and can lead to a host of unintended and unfortunate legal consequences—as one recent U.K. court case shows.

In the case, a woman (intended mother) who had undergone a hysterectomy and could not have children asked an unmarried friend to be a surrogate, whereby the intended father’s sperm was used to inseminate the surrogate (i.e., the surrogate’s eggs were used, and she carried the child). When the surrogate arrived at the hospital to give birth, hospital officials asked for a surrogacy agreement, which the married couple hastily had a lawyer draw up.

Unfortunately, surrogacy contracts are not legally enforceable within the U.K., and it is illegal for lawyers to charge to draw up such agreements. (By contrast, reproductive lawyers in the United States routinely craft surrogacy contracts.)

Soon after the baby boy’s birth, the married couple began having problems in their relationship and separated. During this time, they compounded their already-complex legal problems when they neglected to obtain a parental order transferring legal rights of parenthood from the surrogate mother to the intended mother; by law this order must be requested within six months of the baby’s birth or the surrogate mother remains the legal mother. In this case, the consent forms required for a parental order were not lodged with the court until 7 and ½ months after birth.

These rules are intended to protect the rights of surrogate mothers, an admirable goal. The intended mother and the surrogate remain good friends, and the surrogate clearly wants the intended mother to have all of the rights and responsibilities of motherhood. But, absent a Parental Order from a U.K. court, U.K. law prohibits transfer of parental rights to the intended mother, even though her former husband retains all the rights and responsibilities of fatherhood.

As a result in this unfortunate case, a 3-year-old boy is now officially a ward of the court leaving one to wonder: Is this really in the best interests of the child? Instead of full parental rights for the intended mother, the court granted her a “shared residence order,” which essentially allows the child to enjoy the benefit of its intended parents…but requires them to “share” responsibility for the child because the surrogate is still deemed to be the legal mother.

We may be tempted to conclude that U.S. laws make more sense, but that would be the wrong lesson. The problems in the U.K. case began at the moment of conception, and they would have been problems in the United States as well. Because the formerly married couple used a friend for the insemination, they didn’t bother to go to a licensed medical professional or fertility clinic, which in both the U.K. and U.S. would have precluded many of the legal problems that later ensued. The specifics of a U.K. system that fails to recognize the legality of surrogacy agreements, as well as the couple’s and hospital officials’ misunderstanding of the law then compounded the problems for all parties involved… yet if the intended parents had carefully followed the U.K. laws, they could have both secured their full parental rights.

I can’t emphasize enough the importance of retaining experienced legal and medical counsel to guide intended parents (and surrogates) through every step of the process. After all, a do-it-yourself home-repair job gone bad can be a headache, but a DIY surrogacy arrangement can have a lifelong impact on the well-being of those you love most.

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.