In our first episode, Mariella and Suzanne Todd explore how family structures have changed over the years, developing into a hugely varied number of arrangements, from the growth of unmarried cohabiting couples, to civil partnerships, same-sex marriages, transgender parents and the complexities of surrogacy and donors.
Importantly though, the English legal system has not kept up with all of these modern family structures, leaving many people dangerously unprotected.

Takeaway points:

1. Modern families are broad and wide, and in many areas the underlying legislation is still playing catch-up. There is good news with the prospective introduction of No Fault Divorce and the Law Commission's review of Surrogacy laws. However there are no immediate plans to change the laws governing unmarried couples living together or civil partnership.

Whatever your situation, it is important to understand how the law affects you and your family.

2. In England and Wales a child can have a maximum of two legal parents. In current family structures a child must have a legal mother and may also have a legal father or second parent. Other adults in the child's life can acquire Parental Responsibility (in other words, have all the legal rights and responsibilities which relate to bringing up a child) but may not be a legal parent.

3. In 2014 the Children Act was amended to include the presumption that it is in the child's best interests for both parents to be involved in their life (as long as that does not pose a risk to the child). In this context the term 'parent' does not include step-parent or other adults involved in the child's life.

4. Each family's own circumstances will mean that different legal rights and financial obligations arise. For example, sperm donors informally donating to married or civil partner couples and step-parents after a separation, may find that they have no automatic rights to contact the child, but may still have financial obligations. Grandparents may need to seek the permission of the court before they can apply for an order that they can spend time with their grandchild.


The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.