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Man denied access to ex-partner's donor-conceived daughter

8 June 2015
Appeared in BioNews 805

The Family Court has refused a man contact over a child raised in a complex family situation, to whom he has no biological connection or legal parenthood.

The man, identified in the judgment only as Matthew, had argued that he was a 'social and psychological parent' of the child, who was conceived using sperm donated to his former partner, Helen, in a previous relationship.

Helen had assumed responsibility for the child, known as Alice, after her biological mother - and Helen's partner at the time of conception - was diagnosed with serious mental health disorders and was detained in a secure unit. The sperm donor, who was known to the family, now lives abroad and has no parental responsibility, but does occasionally visit the child.

Matthew, a female-to-male transsexual, began to care for Alice when she was three years old, after he entered into a relationship with Helen. The court heard how he was 'actively involved' in the child's care and that she had referred to him as 'Dad'.

However, the relationship ended four years later and contact between Matthew and Alice ceased after he entered into a new relationship. Matthew then sought to establish contact with Alice through a court order, but was required to obtain leave from the court before he could make an application.

Refusing leave, Judge Clifford Bellamy ruled that it was necessary for Matthew to show that he continues to be a 'social and psychological parent' to Alice.

'It is clear ... that being a social and psychological parent is a status that is acquired over time as a result of "the child demanding and the parent providing for the child's needs". It arises as a result of the developing relationship that person has with the child concerned,' he said, adding that in cases involving contact orders, decisions in favour of step parents would be relatively rare but may sometimes be appropriate.

However, in this case the judge said that although Matthew may have been - and may still be - a social and psychological parent, this 'positive factor' must be weighed against others, including the range of adults with whom the child currently engages.

Alice currently lives with her non-biological mother, Helen, and her two other children, who are both adults. She continues to have contact with her biological mother, who has been discharged into the community, and her biological father, who visits once a year.

The judge also said owing to the 'considerate emotional and physical care needs of the family' - Helen suffers from physical and mental illnesses, as does Matthew, and Alice is affected by autism - there was a substantial chance that the application would disrupt Alice's life to an extent that she could be harmed by it.

In light of all of this, the applicant's case was therefore, at its highest, 'barely arguable', Judge Bellamy concluded.

'Alice's story is an example of the different ways in which modern family life is formed. Modern family life can be complicated,' he added.

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