15/03/2012 18:06 GMT | Updated 05/11/2012 10:54 GMT

'Three Parents Are as Good as Two': Five Tips for Co-Parenting Success

In a ground-breaking case for gay parents, the Court of Appeal has this weekruled that three-parent families can be as good as two. They allowed the appeal of a gay father for increased contact with his son, conceived through assisted reproduction with a lesbian couple. While it was claimed that there had originally been an agreement between the parents that the two women would be the primary parents, the judges found that there could be a real benefit to the boy in increasing the involvement his father had in his life.

This follows a series of disputes in the Courts between parents following the breakdown of co-parenting arrangements, where two single people/couples will agree to conceive a child even though they are not in a relationship. While these arrangements can work for many families, it is clear that if careful planning is not made beforehand, they can end in acrimony. Here are five tips when considering whether to be a co-parent.

1. Is co-parenting right for you?

A co-parenting arrangement is only one of the potential routes available to many couples, ie, assisted reproduction with an anonymous sperm donor, surrogacy arrangements etc, it is important to explore all the options and their implications before making your decision.

2. Who will you co-parent with?

Some couples find their co-parent through adverts in a paper, and there are a number of dedicated websites where you will be able to find suitable matches. Others prefer to start a family with someone with whom they are already friends, and it is important that whoever you choose you trust them and feel confident about starting a family with them. After all, they will be involved in the life of you and your child for a very long time!

3. Roles

You may be a lesbian couple entering into an arrangement with a male friend. You may be two couples wanting to raise a child together. Or you may be a couple where one is infertile. However, there can only be two legal parents of the child, which can have inheritance, nationality and financial implications, although there can be more than two parents/carers who have parental responsibility, which gives that person the ability to be involved in key decisions about the child's life and upbringing.

Whatever the scenario, it is vital discuss what roles, rights and responsibilities you envisage each other having. The birth mother will always be the legal parent, unless the child is subsequently adopted, but the relationship with the mother and the method in which you conceive can have legal implications, including whether you have a legal obligation to pay for the child, so check this with a lawyer before starting the process. You may be legally obliged to pay for the child.

4. Co-parenting agreements

It is advisable to have written agreement between the intended parents and their partners before the process gets underway, which are known as co-parenting agreements. These can be helpful to provide focus of what is important to them and discuss each other's expectations. The agreement can cover issues such as what the child's name will be, how they will be educated, whether they will be raised in any particular faith, and who will pay what.

The agreement will not be a binding legal contract, and in the event of a disagreement, a judge must have the child's best interests as a priority, and adjustments may have to be made to reflect changing circumstances. However, it can still be useful to provide structure to the arrangement and provide a basis for reviews in the future. Any agreement should be drawn up with lawyers to so that potential issues can be anticipated and incorporated into the agreement.

5. Communication.

Good communication is vital for co-parents before, during and after conception. Just as in traditionally formed families, the more open the communication about the parents' hopes and expectations, the greater chance there is of avoiding the acrimonious court battles that make the news. Even if a dispute arises, there are alternative to courts such as mediation or specialist counselling and therapeutic services that can assist you to resolve any disagreement.

Co-parenting arrangements will only increase in the future as more and more people make use of the changes in the law and science that make it easier, so if you are one of those entering into them, make sure you think carefully about whether it is right for you and make sure that, whoever you enter into an arrangement with, you are confident that you can communicate and parent effectively with them.