The natural father of a two-year-old boy living with his lesbian mother and her partner won a legal battle in the UK today against a ruling that he should have only a “limited relationship” with the child.
Court of Appeal judges said the boy’s interests were paramount and the future had to be decided “by stages in the light of accumulating evidence”.
They warned that the desire to set up “a two-parent lesbian nuclear family” might be “essentially selfish and may later insufficiently weigh the welfare and developing rights of the child”.
The case is being seen as of general importance for the emerging world of “alternative families” and sperm donor dads.
The appeal was won by “A”, who cannot be named for legal reasons, a homosexual and an old friend of both the child’s mother, “B” and her partner “C”, who were described as “professional women of considerable achievement”.
The appeal judges described how A went through a “marriage of convenience” with B to smooth the way for the lesbian couple to have a child, but disputes broke out over the extent of C’s future role with the boy.
The judges ruled that a family judge had made “a fundamental error” by trying to lay down a general rule to limit the future relationship between father and child.
They declared that each case must be decided specifically on its own facts, in the best interests of the child, as time went by and circumstances changed.
Lord Justice Thorpe, sitting with Lady Justice Black and Sir John Chadwick, said today’s “important and difficult” case raised important issues relating to the approach of the courts to children born into “alternative families and the relationship of such children with their fathers”.
The judge said: “It is generally accepted that a child gains by having two parents.
“It does not follow from that that the addition of a third is necessarily disadvantageous.”
What mattered was “the paramountcy of child welfare”.
Lady Justice Black said she agreed, adding that “what must dictate is the welfare of the child and not the interests of the adults”.
She called for reconsideration of the practice of referring to fathers in such cases as “donors”, when the father-child relationship might turn out to be “close and fulfilling for both sides”.
She said the donor reference was entirely understandable in the case of anonymous donors of sperm, but the label could give the misleading impression when the father was known that he was “giving away” his child.