Skip to content Skip to footer
Enquiries Call 0800 652 8025
Woman listening to her pregnant partner's belly

The legal considerations of using a known or unknown donor

For many, starting a family through donor conception involves a multitude of considerations to include social, emotional, and also the legal position of the family unit and any child born. Thought is not only given to the present but also to the future and the  impact of any decision made not only on the parent(s) but also on their child.

From the outset, one of the main considerations is whether to move forwards with a known or unknown donor. Such a decision is a very personal one, to be made by each family unit taking into account their own concerns, expectations and wishes for the future. From a legal perspective such a decision has wide and far reaching implications and it is therefore important to understand the various options and legal implications of your chosen route.

Conceiving with an unknown donor

Choosing to conceive with an unknown donor through a licensed fertility clinic here in the UK provides clarity and security for you and your child. There is a legal framework designed to protect you and your child with clear procedures for automatic recognition of legal parenthood and any associated rights and responsibilities. Those receiving treatment can become the legal parents; this means that they will be financially responsible for the child and can provide inheritance rights. They may also be named on the birth certificate and may acquire parental responsibility, which is the legal right to make day to day decisions in respect of the child and their welfare. An unknown donor will not acquire legal status and will not be registered on the birth certificate, thereby not acquiring parental responsibility.

Since 2005, the law around the anonymity rules of donors in the UK were changed and it became possible for a donor conceived child to obtain some information about the donor and their genetic origins should they wish to in the future. For example, at the age of 16, a donor conceived person can obtain non-identifying information about their donor and at 18, identifying information. In addition, information can be obtained about donor conceived genetic siblings, if their details are also registered.

Whilst the ability for the donor conceived child to find out information about their genetic origins in the future is of importance to some families, other families are not so comfortable with it. In fact, this can be one of the main factors, coupled with a shortage of donors and long waiting lists in the UK, which drives people to travel abroad for treatment and conception. Different countries have different laws and rules on information about donors, and in some destinations the donor will always be truly anonymous. This means the child will not be able to obtain further information about their donor.

If you are thinking about travelling abroad for donor conception it is important to understand what your country of destination’s legal position is on the issue of donor anonymity.

Conceiving with a known donor

For others, conceiving with a known donor is a real and significant consideration and one of the reasons we typically see behind decisions to proceed with a known donor is so that the child can have some link with their genetic identity. The degree of involvement of the known donor can vary from family to family, and the position regarding legal parenthood and status is not always as clear.

The acquisition of legal parenthood is complex and depends on how and where conception takes place and the marital/civil partnership status of the parties involved. It is essential to obtain legal advice, prior to conception, specific to the circumstances of the family unit, to ensure that it is clear who has legal parenthood, together with the associated rights and responsibilities, and that the outcome reflects the intentions of the parties. It is also essential that the role of the known donor in the child’s life and upbringing is understood and discussed clearly at the outset. For example, whether the intention is that they will be a donor with no further involvement, whether there will be a limited degree of involvement, such as an uncle or aunt figure, or whether a more full relationship with the child is anticipated. The lines in these types of arrangements can become blurred and it is therefore essential that there is full discussion and exploration of each person’s expectations prior to conception. The preparation of an agreement can assist in focusing the parties’ minds and assist in identifying any mismatch in expectation.


The legal implications of moving forwards with an unknown or known donor and in turn who acquires legal parenthood and the associated rights and responsibilities are wide-reaching for all who are involved. The use of a known or unknown donor is such a personal decision bespoke to each family. It is important to take time to carefully consider your wishes for your child and for the family unit as a whole.


Your key contact

More on this topic

Divorce and family law

Fair shares and non marital assets

Bristol University and the Nuffield Foundation have recently released their report, “Fair shares? Sorting out money and property on divorce”.
Read more on Fair shares and non marital assets

Looking for legal advice?