Whatever a mother does, it will be wrong

Here is another example of how the idea that family courts favor mothers over fathers is a myth. It’s from a much longer piece on surrogacy, which is an interesting read in its own right, but not what I want to address here.

On 27 January 2014, baby M was born. She was conceived using an insemination kit bought over the internet. Her mother and father had been friends for many years. These are just about the only facts about this little girl on which her parents now agree. The names of the child and her parents cannot be published for legal reasons, but even the baby’s name is the subject of a dispute between her mother, S, and her father, H.

According to H, who is gay, he and his partner entered into a surrogacy arrangement with S. She had agreed to give the baby to them to raise. According to S, there was never any surrogacy agreement. Instead, she says that she and H – a friend for 25 years – had a co-parenting agreement, by which they would raise the child together, “like two heterosexual parents that have a child and are separated”.

Unsurprisingly, given the gulf between the two stories, the case eventually came to court when the child was 15 months old. The father and his partner were represented by a QC; the mother represented herself for most of the proceedings.

The judge, Ms Justice Russell, made it clear that although the issue to be decided was residency and contact arrangements for the child, not legal parentage, the determination of who was telling the truth was fundamental to any decision about the child’s best interests.

From the first day, S says, she felt the judge had already made up her mind: “The way she looked at me, the way she spoke with me… and then the way she looked at [H and his partner], spoke with them.”

After a five-day hearing, the judge sided with the father. Referring to a previous case of “insemination by surrogacy”, the judge said: “On the balance of probabilities… I find that S deliberately misled [H and his partner] in order to conceive a child for herself, rather than changing her mind at a later date.”

Although accepting that “S is able to care for M well physically”, the judge expressed concerns about her “overemotional and highly involved role in this infant’s life”, noting that S still breastfed M, carried her in a sling, and “does not set out any timetable for returning to work”. The judge ruled that the child should be removed from her mother, with full custody given to the father, and full parental rights to the father’s partner.

“I had to hand her over at the high court on the day of the judgment,” S says, crying. “No transition period, nothing. She was at home, so a friend had to bring her over to the high court, and I was absolutely terrified. I was sitting by the entrance, security guards were giving me tissues, and I was waiting for my friend and my baby. I breastfed her there, on a bench in the big hall in the high court. And then I was told I had to hand her over. My baby was asleep, and I was thinking, ‘What is she going to think when she wakes up?’”

Since that day, S has been allowed a short supervised visit with her child in a contact centre once a fortnight. “We play, she calls me Mummy. Then she is taken away, and she looks back at me, and I see she’s puzzled. It’s heartbreaking.”

The long-term impact of the child’s removal from her mother is acknowledged in the court judgment, but not dwelt upon: “M is very young and will settle quickly… Very sadly, this case is another example of how ‘agreements’ between potential parents reached privately to conceive children to build a family go wrong.”

Emphasis in red added by me. It shows that whatever a mother does, it will be wrong, even if in most other circumstances a mother would be condemned for not doing these things.

See here and here for more on this subject.

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