Swedish law states that if a mother who has had artificial insemination treatment to conceive a child is married, a registered partner of, or a common law partner with another woman, the other woman can be legally recognized as the child's parent, provided certain criteria are met.
One of those conditions is that the artificial insemination was carried out within the Swedish healthcare system. If it was not, the mother who did not physically give birth to the child needs to go through the process of “adopting” their own kid in order to be legally recognized as its parent in Sweden.
That's not only a problem for female same-sex couples already living in Sweden who choose to have their artificial insemination treatment carried out abroad, but also a major issue for couples who move there from another country. It means a woman who is already legally recognized as the parent of a child in the UK for example can then be forced to go through the adoption process after moving to Sweden if she wants legal status as a guardian there.
Once such example is Helen and her wife Annie. Though their son is three years old, and both are legally recognized as his parents in the UK where he was born, Annie now has to go through the process of adopting him if she wants to be legally recognized as his guardian, because Helen was the one who gave birth to him.
“Even though my wife Annie's name is on our son's birth certificate from the UK, we're in a situation where she has to adopt him here to be legally recognized as a parent,” Helen told The Local.
“It puts us in a really difficult position at the moment where if he got sick or something like that and I'm not around, she's not recognized as his mum. It's a bit scary,” she added.
There is a “Paternity Presumption” enshrined in Swedish law which states that a man who is the legal partner of someone who has a child is automatically considered to be that child's father, but as that law is genderised it does not apply to women in a similar situation, and campaigners have been demanding a gender neutral version of the presumption for several years.
The 'adoption' process necessary as a result can take between six and ten months, leaving parents in limbo until it is completed. There have been similar cases with female same-sex parents of kids from places like Iceland and Norway who have moved to Sweden only to discover they now have to go through the process.
Swedish LGBT rights organization RFSL told The Local they think the current situation is “absurd”.
“For same-sex couples it's adoption that is the procedure unless the child has been conceived through artificial insemination inside the Swedish health care system. This results in these absurd consequences, of which we're very critical,” RFSL chair Frida Sandegård said.
“The government has recently appointed an investigation with the mission to suggest changes in legislation regarding this, but we feel this could have been corrected years ago. We are currently investing more resources in this issue.”
The Swedish Ministry of Justice (Justitiedepartementet) told The Local that a report is currently being prepared on the findings of the investigation.
“It's important that parenting legislation evolves with society in general. There has been active work in the area for several years. Developments within international private law usually follow developments taking place within national legislation as countries reach consensus on various issues. It’s therefore natural that there will be developments in this area and as such there will be a reason to look more closely at the issue going forward,” a Ministry of Justice spokesperson said.
For Helen and Annie however, any changes will likely arrive too late.
“We were talking with our lawyer, and I think we're going to have to go through the (adoption) process. It's not going to change any time soon. In terms of equality Sweden is ahead, but in parenting rights and recognition of female parents who are same-sex non-birth parents they're actually lagging a bit behind. We were really surprised,” she concluded.