Home > Co-Parenting, Family Court, gay, Lesbian > The Age – "How a joyful decision landed in court" by Julie Szego

The Age – "How a joyful decision landed in court" by Julie Szego

In October 1997 an advertisement appeared in the “Mixed Personals” column of the Melbourne Star Observer, a gay and lesbian newspaper.

“Attractive, creative Intelligent gay woman seeks sperm donor/co-parent. Gay man/couple preferred. Level of involvement negotiable. GSOH (good sense of humour) essential.”

The woman who placed the ad (“the mother”) did so without the knowledge of her lesbian partner, the “co-parent”, with whom she had been living in a relationship for two years.

The co-parent was terrified and confused. She wanted to be sure that any child would not be harmed by being raised in a same-sex household. The two separated for a few months and later reconciled, with the co-parent deciding she loved her partner and wanted to have a child with her.

A number of prospective donors replied to the mother’s advertisement. She interviewed “Richard” and later “Michael”. But ultimately the mother contacted “the father”, a gay social acquaintance she had met in 1989, and invited him for lunch.

When they met, the mother asked him if he would be interested in becoming a known sperm donor. The two discussed the role the father would play if the arrangement went ahead. Clearly neither sensed they were setting the scene for a bitter conflict that would last for years – one that yesterday sparked calls from a Family Court judge for urgent law reform to reflect changing social realities.

According to the father’s evidence, the mother confided over lunch that she always had him in mind as a sperm donor. He was delighted. He said he told her he wanted to be known as the child’s parent and to see the child one or two days a week.

In his judgment in the Family Court yesterday Justice Paul Guest said he accepted the father’s evidence that the mother was agreeable to these terms.

The father, now aged 50, had always wanted to be a parent. He had contributed to the upbringing of five children in the past and treasured that experience. He sounded out family and friends on the mother’s proposal. He thought about the effect of a child on his work, house and lifestyle, but made his ultimate decision with “great joy”. About a week later he told the mother her proposal was accepted.

Matters progressed rapidly. The father, at the mother’s request, underwent tests for HIV and sexually transmitted diseases. On January 30, 1998, the mother, father and co-parent nutted out the plan in more detail at a Carlton restaurant.

The next day the mother and father made their first attempt at artificial insemination. It was almost a year before they succeeded, during which time the father agreed to a semen analysis and attended the couple’s housewarming party. Relations were cordial.

When in early January 1999 the mother and co-parent informed the father of the pregnancy, the event was marked by another “celebratory” dinner.

But it wasn’t long until, in the words of Justice Guest, “their once amicable and agreeable relationship became progressively embittered”.

The mother revealed she did not want the father to be present at the birth. The father protested and the three tried to sort it out at a mediation session, but failed. The mother deliberately concealed the birthing arrangements. After the father learnt of Patrick’s birth on September 11 1999, he began Family Court proceedings for contact.

The father was successful in re-establishing contact, although the mother and co-parent occasionally cancelled the visits. On October 26, 2000, they wrote to the father asking him to refrain from referring to himself as Patrick’s “dad” during the visits.

They wrote: “Patrick will grow up knowing the difference between a donor and a father. The discrimination against lesbian families is considerable and the decisions we are making in regard to how to support Patrick . . . are not made on a whim but rather through extensive personal experience and research.”

The father said that he did not wish to undermine their relationship. But he wrote: “I do however remain a father to Patrick and have not given up any of the responsibilities or rights associated with fatherhood.” After more attempts at counselling failed, the couple imposed various restrictions on the father’s behaviour during contact visits. They complained that he came with too many toys, took too many photos of the child and caused friction with their mutual friend who provided the venue.

Eventually the couple revived Family Court proceedings to restrict the father’s involvement to twice-yearly visits.

The mother told the court the visits put enormous strain on her relationship with the co-parent and interfered with their functioning as a family unit. In evidence that provoked negative comments from the judge, she said Patrick emitted a strong smell of male body odour, which she found disturbing.

Justice Guest rejected the couple’s application and ordered four-hour fortnightly contact visits between the father and child, which would increase over time to include overnight stays, alternate weekends and half of school holidays.

The father was not part of the family, he said, but his relationship with Patrick ought to grow alongside it.

[Link: Original Article]

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