In an extraordinary tale of family life in the Internet age, when a lonely heterosexual man and a gay woman met online and decided to conceive a baby together the scene was set for an epic High Court struggle which culminated in the formal recognition of the father’s parental rights.
The shy man had not had a girlfriend for at least a decade and the woman had a ‘burning biological imperative, an almost physical need’ for a child of her own. They made contact through a co-parenting website and, over coffee, agreed that they would try to have a baby together.
As months turned into years, the man again and again provided sperm in the hope that the woman would conceive. Their ’careful, planned, minutely orchestrated efforts’ eventually bore fruit when a ‘miracle’ happened and the woman gave birth to a baby boy when she was aged well over 40.
Both were delighted to be parents but, by that time, ‘truth had merged with fantasy’ in the father’s mind and he had begun to dream of being part of an idealised family unit. He pretended to his parents and friends that he was in a ‘conventional heterosexual relationship’ and the mother was ‘enraged’ at having to fulfil the ‘almost comedic’ charade of visiting her ‘in laws’ and being passed off as the father’s girlfriend.
The result was a bitter falling out over the father’s contact with his son and the role that he should play in the ‘strikingly bright’ little boy’s future. For almost two years, contact between father and son was suspended. The father could not extricate himself from the lie and the mother was understandably concerned that he would ‘construct a reality which was other than the truth’. She developed a ‘deep seated anxiety’ at the prospect of ‘sharing’ the child, whom ‘she regarded solely as hers’.
Commenting on ‘the quite remarkable journey that these two wayfarers have been on together’, the Court found that there was a ‘clear moral imperative’ for a parental responsibility order to be made in the father’s favour. He had amply demonstrated his commitment to his son; it would be ‘belittling’ and wrong to describe him as a mere sperm donor and he could contribute much to the little boy’s future. Although the mother would continue to be the boy’s primary carer, the order would give the father, amongst other things, the right to be consulted about his schooling and any medical treatment he might need.
Paying tribute to the ‘highly committed and instinctively skilful parents’, the Court noted that the father’s name had been included on the boy’s birth certificate and that the ‘cathartic’ experience of meeting in court had led to an agreement between them on contact arrangements. Both parents’ aspirations for their son ‘knew no bounds’ and co-operation between them was likely to provide him with a rosy future.