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.'