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Senior judge condemns fertility clinics’ errors

The President of the Family Division has condemned the administrative errors made by British fertility clinics.

In separate judgments, Sir James Munby recounted the struggles that two couples had been through as a result of these mistakes. In both cases, the mother had successfully received IVF treatment in order to conceive a child and wanted their partner to be legally recognised as the baby’s father.

However, the consent forms required for such recognition had not been correctly filled out in both cases. These easily fixable errors were not picked up by the clinic and the two couples had no idea there was a problem until about a year after their children were born. The clinics informed the parents that the fathers could not legally be recognised as parents because of the incomplete forms.

The two fathers each applied for a declaration of parentage to rectify this problem. Sir James said that despite the errors in both cases the mother had clearly intended to give consent for her partner to be named the child’s legal father.

In one of his judgments, he claimed that he had seen “too many parents in these cases sitting in court, as they wait, daring to hope for a happy outcome”.  In the other, he said that these mistakes “seem indicative of systemic failings both of management and of regulation across the sector”.

The President said he hoped that there would be “very significant improvements in understanding and practice” as a result of these mistakes being identified.

Last year, Sir James ruled that several couples who had experienced similar frustrations were entitled to declarations of parentage. Around the same time, an audit of British fertility clinics found 46 per cent had “anomalies” in their paperwork.

Read Re J in full here and Re N here.

The blog team at Stowe is a group of writers based across our family law offices who share their advice on the wellbeing and emotional aspects of divorce or separation from personal experience. As well as pieces from our family law solicitors, guest contributors also regularly contribute to share their knowledge.

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