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Mother's partner not legal parent of donor-conceived child

17 August 2020
Appeared in BioNews 1060

'Appalling' planning between a lesbian couple and the man who acted as the sperm donor has resulted in a missed opportunity for the mother's partner to become a legal parent.

High Court Judge, Mr Justice O'Hara, declined to grant a parental order after criticising the lack of any agreements in regard to the role of the biological father in the child's life. 

'It is appalling that the planning between the adults for something so important and long-lasting was so inadequate,' he said in his judgment. 'People put more care into arranging a holiday than these three adults did for [the child].' 

In 2014 R and A, who at the time were not married or in a civil partnership, agreed to co-parent a child. P provided sperm with which R conceived a baby, C, who was born later the same year.

R was listed on the birth certificate as the child's mother and only parent. P willingly surrendered all parental responsibilities, but he argued that it had been agreed he would have some contact and at least one visit after the child's birth. R and A disagreed as no agreement had been drawn up and felt he should have no right to contact as he is not C's father in any legally recognised way.

R and A are now civil partners and wished for A to be added to C's birth certificate as a second mother. They argued that although P 'provided the gamete by which fertilisation occurred', he was not the natural father of C, and the two women were the child's only natural parents. The couple claimed that refusal would be discriminatory and that C was born when they were in a long-standing relationship which should be recognised officially. 

The couple's request was opposed by P, the Department of Finance, the UK Secretary of State for Health, and the Attorney General. 

In his judgment, Mr Justice O'Hara explained that A does not meet the requirements of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008 for legal parenthood, as they did not use a licensed clinic for treatment and they only entered a civil partnership after C's birth.

He ruled that 'Ms A is not and cannot be the natural parent of C. Had she and Ms R taken one of the routes open to them, they could have become the recognised legal parents. By failing to do so they have lost that opportunity, at least so far as Ms A is concerned.'

Mr Justice O'Hara explained that although he would not grant a parental order, there were other ways that A could legally recognise her relationship with C: 'In particular, orders can be made giving her parental responsibility and shared residence which, in the circumstances of this case, are likely to be long-lasting in their effect since Mr P isn't seeking anything more than some form of contact'.

Appalling lack of planning for child between Northern Ireland couple and sperm donor: judge
Belfast Telegraph |  12 August 2020
C (A Child), Re (parentage) [2020] NIFam 6
Bailii |  23 June 2020
Woman's bid to be legally declared parent of child conceived through sperm donor rejected
The Irish News |  12 August 2020
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