Status of parents corrected after fertility clinic’s error

Family Law|March 2nd 2017

The partner of a women who gave birth following fertility treatment has been declared the child’s other legal parent, despite an earlier administrative error.

The case concerned a couple who received treatment at St Mary’s Hospital, Manchester, in 2009. This led to the birth of a baby girl, described by High Court Judge Mr Justice Peter Jackson as “clearly very much loved by both her parents”. She is now five years old.

However, only the mother was legally her parent by virtue of the birth. In order to also give the status of parent to her partner, whose gender was not specified in the judgement, both the mother and her partner needed to sign two specific consent forms. However, the clinic later discovered that the second consent form was missing and a result, the mother’s partner had never become a legal parent of the child after all.

Sitting at the County Court in Liverpool, Mr Justice Peter Jackson described the administrative mistake as: “a mere paperwork error, for which the clinic itself was responsible.”

The mistake was uncovered after a number of similar errors at other clinics resulted in High Court hearings. The clinic at St Mary’s Hospital uncovered three such filing errors following an audit but nevertheless took nearly two years (20 months) to inform the couple in this case, a fact which the Judge noted “with some concern”.

From that point onwards, however, matters moved quickly. The mother’s partner formally applied for a declaration of parentage, under Section 55A of the Family Law Act 1986.

Mr Justice Peter Jackson noted that senior representatives of the clinic had made “what is obviously a sincere apology” for the “confusion and distress” caused by error. He referred in passing to the fact that the child in this case has “special characteristics” which place “special responsibilities” on the parents.

He had “not the slightest hesitation”, the Judge continued, in granting the declaration of parentage sought, in order to make both the birth mother and her partner legal parents of the five year-old girl. He stressed that this was a mere formality, however, and that both had always been her parents in reality.

The NHS Trust agreed to reimburse the parents’ costs.

The blog team at Stowe is a group of writers who share their advice on the wellbeing and emotional aspects of divorce or separation from personal experience. Guest contributors also regularly contribute to share their knowledge.

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