An interesting case was decided last week in England and here’s an article about it and its immediate aftermath (Pink Paper, 12/5/10).
A gay man who fathered two children with a lesbian woman via artificial insemination has been awarded parental rights including 152 days per year visitation with the children.
The father had advertised himself as a donor in leading monthly glossy Gay Times in 1999. His original ad read: ‘Gay guy wants to be a Dad. White, handsome, solvent 30s, professional, in happy relationship, non-scene, has everything but kids.
‘Looking for a similar female couple who want to have kids. I require little involvement, I have a lot to offer.”
Two children were conceived, one in 2000 and one in 2003. The lesbian couple intended to raise them alone and now say that the man said he would only want to see them occasionally for a couple of hours at a time. But in ways not explained by the article, he wanted – and they allowed – much more extended contact between father and children. That included paying for their private education.
And then, in what sounds like the closest thing possible to a “divorce,” given the circumstances, the relationship between the two women and the children’s father “soured.” The women apparently moved to reduce his access and he took his case to court. The judge awarded him parental rights including substantial visitation amounting to about five months out of the year.
So far we’ve heard nothing from the man. I’d love to know what he has to say about just what he promised and just what caused the women to try to push him out of his children’s lives. After all, they accepted his money and his caring for the children, but seem to consider it outrageous that he wanted a continuing relationship with the children whom he fathered and was helping to raise.
Nowhere do the women mention the children’s welfare or how they feel about their father. What they “hang their hats on” is his purported promise to stay out of the children’s lives, as if, in some way I don’t understand, that should trump his parental rights and his children’s interest in a father.
Needless to say, that promise, if it were ever made, didn’t seem as important to them when they were accepting his money or his attention to the children. But whatever the facts of that, the court rightly ignored their apparent claim that some claimed contractual obligation should deprive his kids of the only father they’ve ever known.
It’s good to see a court ruling that a father – any father – who’s had such involvement with his children, can’t simply be kicked to the curb on a mother’s whim.
But the larger issue continues unresolved. This man has been allowed by the courts to continue his relationship with his children, and rightly so. He’s been a hands-on dad to whom the children are doubtless devoted. Such a father can’t just be shoved aside.
Still, he was able to establish his parental rights solely at the discretion of the mothers; they apparently agreed to his developing a relationship with the children and therefore his father’s rights came into being.
But if they hadn’t agreed, what would his rights have been? In the United States, we see it often that a man loses his parental rights solely because his child’s mother was clever enough and knowledgeable enough to circumvent them. Once sufficient time has passed, his biology will be insufficient to force a court to “award” him parental rights. I can cite dozens of cases in which exactly that has happened. The John Wyatt case currently pending in Utah is one recent example.
The larger issue is simple and straightforward. Fathers’ rights must depend on fathers, not mothers. That means that a man who fathers a child out of wedlock must have a real opportunity to be a father to the child. He must have the actual, real-world opportunity to care for the child, contribute to its support and generally do all the things that parents do for children.
No father should have his rights compromised in any way through any action save his own. If he has the opportunity to be a father to his child and doesn’t follow through, he has no one to blame but himself if his rights are diminished or terminated. But no father should lose his child because the mother was adept at concealing the child or because she didn’t tell him the truth about paternity.