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What happens when you have a baby with a sperm donor who is known to you? An old friend maybe, or a friend of a friend. Sarah Wood-Heath from fertility lawyers Natalie Gamble Associates looks at the recent change in the law and how it could affect you.
“So, what do you think? I want a baby and if you’re happy to help that would be great. I don’t want anything from you, no money, involvement... although if we did have a baby I would like him or her to at least know you. I think it’s important for them to know their origins but I certainly would not want you to be part of their life, I will be their mother...” says Linda.
Mark replies: “Sure, it sounds great. I’ve known you for so long I would be happy to help. I’m not ready to be a dad and am not even sure that is something I would ever want to be. I certainly don’t want to be known as dad or anything or have any involvement in their life. May be I could just see them a couple of times a year”.
And so the stage is set.
More often than not known donation arrangements like Mark and Linda’s are entered into with the best of intentions. One party desperate for a baby, the other happy to help as long as there are no strings attached. Assurances are made all round that the mum will not seek financial assistance and the donor will not have substantial involvement .
Many known donation arrangements are very successful, particularly where the adults spend a long time considering their wishes and feelings and thrashing out between them what they each expect in terms of a relationship. However,sometimes things do not go so smoothly, and an underlying mismatch of expectations and the arrival of someone so cute and adorable can spell disaster. Suddenly the donor realises that he helped to create this little person and feelings which were entirely unexpected begin to brew. He thinks “Maybe, just maybe, I do want to be dad!’.
So arrives Benny.
Mark says “He is so cute. I can’t believe I made him and he is mine. When can I see him next? I can pop over tomorrow if that is ok. Don’t forget, when you need a rest I’m here. Maybe he could stay overnight with me on Saturday?”
Linda says “Hang on, this isn’t what we agreed. You didn’t want to be a part of his life. I never expected this and it is not the way I wanted to bring Benny up. He will only have limited contact with you so he knows where he came from”.
When positions are so far apart how do you unravel the mess?
Bitter disputes such as these often end up in the courts where judges have to decide whether there should be contact between Mark and Benny as well as whether it would be in Benny’s best interests to have a full relationship with Mark (including staying the night and going on holiday).
Up until now, the courts have been supportive of what everyone agreed before the baby was born and would often make a decision on that basis. However, the Court of Appeal has recently changed things with a landmark decision that a donor father should have a significant relationship with his child even though this was not what everyone had agreed at the outset. The court ruled that one cannot predict the future or account for the fact that there may be a change of feelings. If a donor father decides he wants a relationship with the child, it may not be wrong to stop this just because originally he did not want one. In fact, the relationship could be a good thing for the child. But there are no hard and fast rules to this as each case has its own circumstances and permutations. This is a sad and difficult position for everyone involved - Linda who entered the arrangement on the basis and understanding that she would be the sole carer; Mark who entered into the arrangement unaware that the little bundle of joy would evoke such feelings in him.
In this case, the law could come down on the side of the Mark. I for one would not wish for the job of a judge in such disputes, having to weigh in the balance so many conflicting interests, but ultimately the decision is what is in the best interests of the child, not what the adults agreed.
So, is Mark a sperm donor or dad? It seems that now, he can change his mind!
Article:7th August www.g3mag.co.uk