A gay man who twice donated sperm to help a lesbian couple have children has been ordered by the Child Support Agency (CSA) to pay maintenance.
Mark Langridge, from Essex, has been told to pay £26 per week towards the upbringing of two girls, both born more than a decade ago, even though he is not named on either birth certificate.
Mr Langridge made the first of two donation in 1998, after he and his partner Shaun became friends with a lesbian couple who wanted to have children. The second donation followed in 2000, and on both occasions the couple was promised that he would not be named on the birth certificate. He was also assured that the lesbian couple were financially secure and would require no money from him.
Mr Langridge, who has been with his partner 16 years and in a civil partnership with him for five, had some contact with the family until 2004 but then lost touch.
The lesbian couple, who never became civil partners, split up, and the biological mother left with the children later claimed benefits. Mr Langridge claims she threatened to reveal his identity to the CSA and earlier this year, he received a letter from the agency demanding money.
He told the Guardian: “I have told the CSA what happened but it has fallen on deaf ears. As far it is concerned, if I’m the biological father I have to pay – irrespective of the circumstances.”
The mother’s former partner continues to visit the children but is not regarded as having any financial responsibility by the CSA.
The law on sperm donation and paternity was changed in April 2009. Now, under the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008, anyone who donates to a couple in a civil partnership or via a licensed clinic is not considered the legal father. In the former case, under section 42 of the Act, the other partner in the partnership is considered the legal parent of the child provided they consent.
However, Mr Langridge’s donation was made before this law came into force and via a private arrangement.
Mr Langridge earns a low income and says he cannot afford the £26 per week ordered – and a legal challenge to the order is even further beyond his means. He has called on the government to change the law:
“The law was changed because it was unfair, but it is still considered OK for men caught in my position to be penalised. Our only crime was agreeing to do someone a good turn. It is absurd that I’m being chased for the money while the children’s other mother makes no contribution to their upkeep. How can that be right in modern Britain in which we supposedly have equality?”
This case is an excellent illustration of the way in which the rigid application of rules can sometimes clash loudly with the peculiarities and complexities of a situation. Yes, from a legal and biological point of view, there is no doubt that Mr Langridge is the father but what about the other mother in the lesbian couple? Legalities aside, it would seem wholly fair that she bear some of the financial responsibility for two girls, who were, after all, born because of the family unit she had created with their mother.
Sometimes, it does seems as though parents are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. Just last week we reported on the case of a girl refused military compensation after her father was killed in action because her parents were not married. And yet, Mr Langridge, who was perhaps as far from being married to the children’s mother as it is possible to be, still has to pay up.