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Known-donation contact case: Children's lives 'irredeemably marred' by dispute, says judge

10 November 2014
Appeared in BioNews 779

A six-year legal battle for contact over two girls conceived via known-donor fertilisation has had a 'destructive effect' on the girls' childhood, a High Court judge has warned in his third substantive judgment in the case.

The girls, aged 13 and nine, were conceived using sperm donated in an informal arrangement between two same-sex couples in civil partnerships and are the biological children of one of the men and one of the women.  The couples were initially 'friends and collaborators' but became 'strangers' with feelings of mutual distrust after the fathers applied for contact with the children, the judge explained in an earlier hearing.

In the latest judgment handed down in private last March, Justice Cobb said he hoped to bring an end to 'nearly six continuous years of litigation', adding that continuing proceedings 'is not creating or nourishing positive or potential options for the children; it is having a contrary effect'.

The court heard evidence of the distress stemming from the litigation. The biological mother of the children suffered deteriorating mental health, and occasions of domestic abuse within the family were highlighted, but had not been investigated.

The litigation has also been 'financially crippling' to the parties, leading to expenses in excess of £500,000 calculated in July 2013, with two more contested hearings taking place since then. 'The case illustrates all too clearly the immense difficulties which can be unleashed when families are created by known-donor fertilisation; these difficulties have been identified and discussed in a number of earlier cases,' Justice Cobb said in the judgment.

'Thoughtful and sophisticated people find themselves experiencing remarkable, unprecedented, emotional difficulty, with no easy way of out of it. A very high psychological price can be paid, and I believe has been paid in this case, by all concerned.'

He added: 'I fear that the childhoods of [the girls] have been irredeemably marred by the ongoing court conflict.'

Putting the girls' welfare as the main priority, the judge ruled that the girls should remain living with the mothers, under the supervision of social workers for the next 12 months. The fathers were granted the right to contact the younger child eight times per year, again under the supervision of social workers. However, the fathers can only make indirect contact (via letters and gifts) with the older child, as per the child's wishes to have limited contact with her biological father.

Jerry Karlin of charity Families Need Fathers commented: 'This case is indicative of how much more work is needed to ensure delays in the family courts are reduced.'

£500,000 custody battle between gay parents after a sperm donation deal went wrong wrecked childhoods of two little girls, says judge
MailOnline |  4 November 2014
A & B (Children) [2014] EWHC 818 (Fam)
Bailii |  24 October 2014
Donor case harmed girls, judge says
Yahoo! News (Press Association) |  3 November 2014
Gay couple's decision to donate sperm to their lesbian friends ended in 'mutual loathing'
The Independent |  3 November 2014
12 March 2018 - by Jessica Smith 
The recent landmark Court of Appeal case Re G – where the biological grandparents of a child born from donor sperm have been granted contact with the child – has been a hot topic of discussion among the legal and mainstream press...
21 December 2015 - by Antony Starza-Allen 
The High Court has refused a man's application for direct contact with a child born to a same-sex couple using his sperm...
27 April 2015 - by Ari Haque 
A man who provided sperm to a female friend who then used it to conceive without sexual intercourse has been awarded parental rights by the Virginia Court of Appeals in the USA...
26 January 2015 - by Simon Hazelwood-Smith 
The world of unregulated sperm donation is revealed as an underground market of desperation, exploitation and remarkable characters.
4 February 2013 - by Nina Chohan 
The UK High Court has granted permission to two sperm donors in a same-sex relationship to apply for contact with their biological children, conceived through a known donation arrangement with two lesbian couples....
24 September 2012 - by Tom Barrow 
The High Court has awarded a lesbian couple sole custody rights for a child conceived using donor sperm and a surrogate's egg after a three-year battle over parenthood...
19 March 2012 - by Rosie Beauchamp 
The Court of Appeal in London has ruled unanimously that a gay man who fathered a child for a lesbian couple is not a secondary parent, allowing him greater access to his two-year-old son...
13 February 2012 - by Dr Linda Wijlaars 
The Court of Appeal in the UK is hearing a case in which a gay man is fighting for greater parental access to his two-year old son he fathered with his lesbian ex-wife...
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