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Appalling lack of planning for child between Northern Ireland couple and sperm donor: judge

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At the time the couple were not in a civil partnership, but had agreed to co-parent any child

At the time the couple were not in a civil partnership, but had agreed to co-parent any child

At the time the couple were not in a civil partnership, but had agreed to co-parent any child

Inadequate planning between a lesbian couple and a man in Northern Ireland who provided sperm for a child was "appalling", a High Court judge has said.

As Mr Justice O'Hara refused one of the women's bid to be legally declared a second parent, he criticised the lack of definitive agreements on any future role to be played by the biological father.

He said: "People put more care into arranging a holiday than these three adults did for (the child)."

The case centred on a dispute over the couple's claims that they should both have parental recognition.

In 2014 the two women, Ms R and Ms A, agreed with a Mr P that he would provide sperm for Ms R to have a baby.

At the time the couple were not in a civil partnership, but had agreed to co-parent any child. Later that year a baby boy, referred to as C, was born.

Ms R is the only person named on the birth certificate as the child's mother, with Mr P content that his name does not feature.

According to the judge there was never a definitive agreement on what role the man would have in C's life.

Even though he did not seek parental responsibility, Mr P argued that he was to have some contact and at least one visit after the child was born.

The two women challenged his right on the basis that he is not the boy's father in any legally recognised way.

"It is appalling that the planning between the adults for something so important and long lasting was so inadequate," Mr Justice O'Hara said.

"To the extent that there were discussions the outcome was incomplete and incoherent."

With the two women now civil partners, C and his birth mother have both taken Ms A's surname.

However, Ms A sought a further declaration of parentage, so that she could be named as the boy's second parent and added to the birth certificate.

Backed by Ms R, she claimed that refusing the application would amount to discrimination.

The couple insisted that when C was born they were already in an enduring relationship which should be properly recognised.

Their case was resisted by Mr P, the Department of Finance, the UK Secretary of State for Health, and the Attorney General. In his published judgment, Mr Justice O'Hara held that Ms A did not meet requirements for legal parental status within the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008.

She only became Ms R's civil partner after C was born, and the couple did not go through a licensed clinic for treatment.

Acknowledging the complexity of the issues involved, the judge said the declaration being sought was "asking much too much".

Ms R had stated that Mr P "provided the gamete by which fertilisation occurred", but was not C's natural father.

Instead, she claimed, the two women were the child's natural parents.

However, Mr Justice O'Hara ruled: "That is simply wrong - Ms A is not and cannot be the natural parent of C.

"Had she and Ms R taken one of the routes open to them, they could have become the recognised legal parents.

"By failing to do so they have lost that opportunity, at least so far as Ms A is concerned."

He found that any interference with family rights in the case was extremely limited and justified.

Declining to make the declaration sought, the judge said Ms A can still cement her place in C's life.

He added: "In particular, orders can be made giving her parental responsibility and shared residence which, in the circumstances of this case, are likely to be long lasting in their effect since Mr P isn't seeking anything more than some form of contact."

Belfast Telegraph