Lesbian wins access to children of former lover

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The Independent Online

A lesbian has won joint custody of the two children of her former lover, in a ruling described as a breakthrough for the rights of gay parents. The woman took her case to the High Court after her former girlfriend, who is the biological mother of the two girls, denied her access to them.

A lesbian has won joint custody of the two children of her former lover, in a ruling described as a breakthrough for the rights of gay parents. The woman took her case to the High Court after her former girlfriend, who is the biological mother of the two girls, denied her access to them.

Overturning an earlier ruling, Lord Justice Thorpe said the children, aged six and three, would lose a "vital side of family life" if they did not see the woman, identified only as "W". The women became lovers in 1995 and during the relationship the girls were conceived by donor insemination. In 2003, the couple split up and the 31-year-old mother of the children became "hostile" towards her former girlfriend.

Last year, a judge at Telford county court in Shropshire refused the former lover joint residency, which would have given her shared parental responsibility, saying such an order would lead to endless disputes between the women.

He granted the mother sole residence, but ruled that her former lover should have contact with the children so that she could have "a significant role" in their lives. The mother then announced she was moving to Cornwall with her new girlfriend, prompting her 46-year-old former partner to take her case to the Court of Appeal. "She did not wish W to be a parent," Lord Justice Thorpe said.

At present, partners who are not the biological parents of any children they have with their gay lovers do not have any rights in law over custody of them unless they apply for a joint residency order.

Giving his ruling yesterday, Lord Justice Thorpe said a court welfare officer's report had concluded that the two girls needed to know the 46-year-old woman to have a "clear picture of where they fit in" when they are older. He said: "What has been said about the importance of fathers is of equal application in same-sex parents. I am in no doubt the children require firm measures to safeguard them from diminution or loss of a vital side of family life."

Kim Beatson, who chairs the family law reform group Resolution, said: "In any case involving a child's upbringing, the court must look at things from the child's point of view; the welfare of the child is paramount. Generally speaking, the courts take the view that what is important for a child is their emotional security and stability after family breakdown.

"This would be a key concern here if the mother's former partner, while not a biological parent, played a major role in their upbringing. She wouldn't be treated any differently to a male partner who had also played a major role in the children's upbringing."

She added: "What is significant is the importance of the relationship to the children, so they can understand and make sense of their early lives. It is generally understood that children benefit from good contact arrangements with the parent they no longer live with and there is no reason to imagine these cases should be any different."

Under the Civil Partnerships Act, effective from December, same-sex couples who agree to "gay marriage" get similar rights of access to children as heterosexual parents.