UK Courts Deliberate on Parental Role of Sperm Donor

There is a very interesting and potentially ground-breaking case being heard in the U.K. courts right now about the role of sperm donors in the lives of the children they help to create. Our colleague Natalie Gamble ( shared with us the status of a case she is currently litigating. From Natalie’s blog post of January 31:

The High Court has today made a landmark ruling, allowing two civilly partnered sperm donors the right to ask for contact with their biological children (against the wishes of the children’s respective lesbian mothers), but also warning that it will consider the need to protect the lesbian families carefully before a final decision is made. NGA is representing the mothers in the case of Re Z, one of the two connected cases.

The ruling has significant implications for same sex parents and families created through donor conception. It is the first case to test rights for same sex parents introduced by Parliament in 2008, which give lesbian mothers the same legal protection following sperm donation as opposite sex parents. Under the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008, the mothers in this case, as civil partners, are the legal parents of their children. The biological fathers, like sperm donors through clinics, are expressly excluded from being treated as the legal fathers ‘for any purpose.’ Relationships broke down after the men each sought more involvement than the mothers agreed. They applied to court, and the court has now ruled that they can have their cases heard.

As you can tell from Natalie’s synopsis, this is not a simple case. Part of what complicates the issue here is the fact that the sperm donor had early, frequent and meaningful interaction with the child; at least this is the claim of the sperm donor and his partner. The legal parents in the case, the lesbian couple, make the counterpoint that the interaction between the child and the donor was strictly a function of the friendship between one of the mothers and the donor. And, more importantly, there was never any discussion of or agreement to the sperm donor being the “father” of the child.

Even though case encompasses several issues for the courts to adjudicate, one incontrovertible fact is the lack of a legally executed agreement between the parties. Absent a binding and well defined agreement between the parties in compliance with local law, it is all too common for parental rights disputes to end up in a he-said, she-said court case. A review of the court documents shows exactly how a seemingly innocent and mutually beneficial arrangement can end in financially and emotionally devastating repercussions.

Certainly the overriding issue to be decided in this case is what is in the best interests of the child, but there are other painful ramifications as well. The friendship between the sperm donor and the lesbian mothers is damaged, in turn weakening one of the family’s support systems. The rift and ensuing legislation will undoubtedly have a lasting effect on all the parties involved—including the child for whom everyone had the best of intentions.

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.