The biological father of a toddler should not be able to visit her, the High Court has ruled.
The girl in question, referred to as ‘X’, was conceived following a sperm donation agreement between the father, ‘JK’, and a female couple, ‘HS’ and ‘KS’, who are the baby’s legal parents. The baby is now 18 months old. JK had some contact for a period after the birth but has not seen her since.
The couple had originally made contact with JK via a website. The parties now dispute the nature of their informal agreement. The couple say they were looking for a sperm donor only, while he insists they wanted a co-parent for any resulting child. Each side produced what appear to be different versions of the couple’s profile on the site.
Sitting in High Court, Mrs Justice Theis said:
“It is not possible to make a determination on [the couple’s original plan], other than to observe that the uncertainty about it perhaps foreshadows the difficulties that were going to develop.”
The parties also disagreed over the nature of an agreement they signed prior to the donation. Based on a standard form downloaded and printed from the internet, this was, the couple said, provided in order to address financial concerns held by JK, in particular any liability he might have hold for child maintenance. But he said the form was in fact intended to address his responsibilities as a co-parent.
The Judge noted:
“In fact, within the document, at paragraph 11, it deals with the question in relation to financial responsibility for JK, and indicates that he would have no financial responsibility towards X. As to the future arrangements for any contact that JK would have with any child that resulted from the arrangement, paragraph 30 sets out extensive contact and involvement between JK and the child.”
JK was allowed to see X on a number of occasions, but was always supervised by the couple. They subsequently questioned his punctuality when visiting the child but there was evidence that some of the visits had been successful and amicable, with the couple meeting JK’s family and him visiting their workplace.
But the relationship deteriorated and in October last year, the couple informed JK that they would not allow any further contact. They accused him of unreliability and holding unrealistic expectations of his role, and said his desire to see the child caused them “distress and difficult circumstances”.
Predictably unhappy, JK launched legal proceedings. The children’s guardian recommended that he be allowed indirect contact only, saying that the father’s expectations of a co-parenting role could risk “the stability of X’s otherwise secure and stable placement.” Such a risk outweighed any benefits that might come from direct contact (face to face visits) she believed.
Mrs Justice Theis concluded that:
“…it is quite clear these parties wholly underestimated the emotional consequences of the arrangement they embarked upon. For their differing reasons, they have each struggled to come to terms with the position they are now in. JK said he understood his role was going to be a full quasi-parental role, with regular direct contact.”
“HS and KS whilst in part acknowledging the parties previously had a better relationship, say the position has now fundamentally changed caused in large part by JK’s behaviour towards them.”
Mrs Justice Theis accepted the guardian’s recommendation and ruled that JK should only have indirect contact with the child once a year.
“Having considered the matters set out above and keeping X’s welfare needs as the court’s paramount consideration I have reached the conclusion that there should be no direct contact between X and JK. To order it would place X at an unacceptable level of risk of emotional harm by putting the security of her placement with HS and KS at risk.”
Indirect contact would meet the child’s need for “information about her biological father”.
Read Re X in full here.
Image by Matt Artz via Flickr