A recent High Court case has determined that in particular circumstances, a girl conceived through informal sperm donation will not have her welfare needs met by spending time with the donor.
There have been many publicised cases over several years dealing with the rights and responsibilities of sperm donors. Some of these have concluded that the children’s welfare needs are met by spending time with their biological fathers, but the most recent W v Y, Z, heard in July 2020, concluded that a child’s welfare need was not met by spending time with her biological father, and that instead, there should only be annual indirect contact unless and until the child indicates otherwise.
The background to this matter was that the biological father donated sperm to a same-sex female couple, and believed that they were searching for a co-parent. Their position was that they were simply looking for a donor, and wished to raise the child as co-parents themselves. The father had initially spent time with the child as a baby, but this was eventually prevented by the parents, as they felt it was not in the child’s interests. The father brought the matter before the Court previously, and obtained an Order for annual indirect contact; he was again seeking direct contact in the most recent case, where the child was aged 6 years.
The father sought to rely on it being the child’s right to know her biological father, and her heritage, and cited previous cases in which sperm donors were permitted to spend time with their biological children. The Court had regard to these cases, but indicated that the child’s welfare was paramount. Assisted by CAFCASS (the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service, whose role is to independently support the Court in deciding what is in the best interests of, and safe for, the child), the Court took the view that to introduce the father to the child would risk causing confusion to the world she knows. Further, it found that the involvement of the father would continue to have an impact on the child’s primary parent’s mental health, which would in turn impact upon the child. The Court considered that in other reported cases, the sperm donor father had been having regular direct contact with the children prior to proceedings, but that this was not the case here. The Court was satisfied that the child was aware of the circumstances surrounding her conception (age-appropriately explained by the primary parent) and that the primary parent would seek to support her as and when she wished to know more.
It could be said, therefore, that the key point to take from this recent case is that every case is fact-specific. Whilst the Court may recognise the importance of a child knowing and understanding their heritage, this is not a right that exists irrespective of their welfare, and it is that which is considered as the paramount aspect.
Donor fathers who seek to spend time with their biological children should therefore carefully consider, with the input of professionals where necessary, the impact of their actions upon the child. There is no automatic right to spend time with the children, and all of the circumstances will be considered. This case also highlights the importance of clarity in the arrangements from the outset. Again, the input of professionals may assist with this.
For further information on this, please do not hesitate to contact the Family team at Blake Morgan.