As we have highlighted in this blog previously, sometimes the argument as to who is the child’s “parent” can be as difficult and complicated as any disagreement between parents as to what the arrangements for the care of the Child should be, and are certainly no less emotive.
Progress in scientific techniques means it is entirely possible for a number of people to be classed as a child’s parent and where the legal, biological and psychological status are split between more than 1 individual, it can lead to complicated legal argument. The growing number of cases in this area highlights the need for specialist advice in advance of entering into any form of alternative conception.
The recently reported case of M v F and H is an example of the kind of issues which can arise. A married couple who were unable to conceive naturally employed a sperm donor. Following the child’s birth there was debate as to whether the husband, or the donor, was the child’s father in law.
Under the terms of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008, it is entirely possible for the biological and legal aspects of parentage to be split between 2 individuals. In this case, there was no doubt as to the biological father (the donor), but who qualified for the legal status of father depended upon whether the child had been conceived using artificial insemination or through intercourse.
Having heard the evidence in the case, the Court found that the child had been conceived by way of intercourse between the Mother and the donor, and not using scientific techniques. This resulted in a finding that the donor was the father in law, as well as biology. Consequently, he became liable for Financial Support for the child, in addition to acquiring Parental Responsibility for him – leading to complex questions of how decisions affecting the child’s upbringing would be made as between the 3 adults involved in his life.
This is by no means the first example of a donor finding themselves liable to provide financial support for a child conceived as a result of their assistance. There are also many examples of cases dealing with the extent to which any biological donor should have contact with the child during their childhood, despite it never having been in contemplation that they would have any practical parenting role at the time of conception. Many people do not understand the law in this area, and the unintended consequences can have serious and lasting implications and as such, research and specialist advice are a must.
By Family Law Solicitor Cara Nuttall