Court decides whether 15-year-old should be told he’s a father
The High Court has outlined the issues to be considered when deciding whether a teenage father should be told that he has a child if the mother doesn’t want him to know.
The case involved a mother who had become pregnant at 13 but was unaware of her pregnancy until her waters broke.
Her family were unable to care for the child, and the mother believed that adoption would be the best outcome. The child was placed with foster carers at birth.
At the time of the birth the mother was aged 14 and was described as having high intelligence and considerable potential. She suffered from anxiety and had self-harmed in the past. She wished to continue her studies and go to university but was fearful of the consequences if the father was informed of the birth.
She believed that her privacy would be lost, that he would be violent towards her, and that his family would harbour a grudge if the child were not placed with them. The families lived less than 10 minutes' drive away from each other.
The father was aged 15. His relationship with the mother had been short-lived and they split up shortly before he was excluded from school. He had a history of antisocial behaviour and was known to social services.
He had been violent to his own mother and now lived with his father. He abused drugs and alcohol, as did his own father, had poor mental health and had criminal convictions for assaults and criminal damage.
The local authority applied for directions as to whether it should inform the father of the birth of his child.
The High Court ruled that the father should not be told for several reasons including:
- the mother's very young age at birth, bringing with it the most profound effect on her life.
- if the father were informed, there was a strong probability that that knowledge would be spread around the community in which the mother lived and studied.
- if that happened, her education would probably be terminated, and she would become socially isolated.
- the mother was psychologically vulnerable, on antidepressants and had a history of self-harm. If the father were informed of the birth she would become more at risk.
- there was no ground for a realistic belief that the paternal family would be able to offer the child a safe and secure home. Neither the father nor his parents appeared to be a realistic option.
- enough was known about the paternal family to provide details for a life story book and later life letter, meaning the child could seek out the father in future if she wished to do so.
- the views of the harm that the mother might suffer were supported by a clinical psychologist's reports, her school pastoral tutor and her counsellor, and her complaints about the father and his family were supported by the local authority's social services files.
The local authority was therefore directed not to tell the father of the child's birth.
Please contact Paul Owen or Sarah Ashby if you would like more information about the issues raised in this article or any aspect of family law.