A lesbian's bid to be declared the legal "parent" of her ex-partner's three-year-old twin boys has failed after a High Court judge ruled that paperwork was not handed to fertility clinic staff on time. Mr Justice Cobb said Consent to Legal Parent forms had not been submitted to the clinic "assisting the reproduction" before treatment began.
He said legal requirements imposed by fertilisation and embryology legislation had therefore not been satisfied. The judge said his ruling was likely to be "devastating" for the 37-year-old woman. But he said she could pursue a court application to stay in contact with the youngsters and might still have a "parental role" to play.
Mr Justice Cobb announced his decision on Friday after analysing evidence at a hearing in the Family Division of the High Court in London earlier this month. The judge suggested that the case showed the need for "legal duties" to be observed rigorously and raised "serious implications" for couples involved in "assisted reproduction". He said neither the women - who had separated after a 13-year relationship - involved, the children, nor the clinic could be identified.
The judge said - in a written ruling - that the women had started a relationship in 1997 and begun living together in 1998. He said in 2008 - when both were 33 - they had embarked on a "journey" to create a family and had contacted a fertility clinic and selected a donor.
Treatment cycles in 2008 and 2009 had been unsuccessful but the twins were born in 2010 after a successful third round of treatment. The boys' birth was registered with the woman recorded as the "parent" and her ex-partner as the mother.
Mr Justice Cobb said the women had then separated in 2011. The woman had made an application to the High Court to stay in contact with the boys - and described herself as the children's "parent". But her ex-partner opposed the contact application and argued that the woman was not the boys' "parent".
Mr Justice Cobb said his first step had been to consider whether the woman was the "parent". He said he would analyse the contact application at a future hearing. The judge said he had to consider whether the steps taken by the women and the clinic were "effective" to give the woman the legal status of "parent". He concluded that they were not.
The judge said the 2008 Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act had enabled the "second woman" in a same-sex relationship to become a "parent" of a child born to a partner. He said the legislation required "consents to parenthood" to be in place before treatment with donor sperm or embryos began - or the child would not have a second legal parent.
The judge concluded that the couple had not handed their Consent to Legal Parent forms to the clinic before the successful third cycle of treatment began. He said legal requirements had therefore not been met and he had decided to make a declaration that the woman was "not the parent" of the twins.
Mr Justice Cobb said neither woman had "any real understanding" about the significance of the "parentage provision". And he said the clinic had fallen "far short" of providing them with enough information to understand the nature and implications of the treatment. He said the legal status of "parent" carried implications for contact, child maintenance and inheritance - and deciding whether to confer that status on someone not genetically related to a child was a "serious matter".
"This judgment discusses the serious implications for the patients, and the children born to those patients, when the legal duties, procedural requirements and regulatory principles are not observed rigorously," said Mr Justice Cobb. Had they been so applied, when the parties to this case had purported to achieve the grant of 'parental' status to the 'second woman', a great deal of distress, and this part of this litigation, would almost certainly have been avoided."