The adult daughter of a woman born following an affair has been granted a legal declaration concerning the identify of her biological father.
The therapist, ‘Ruth’, is now in her early 60s. She was born out of wedlock to a then 18-year-old mother. The mother, ‘Constance’, was from an orthodox Jewish background while the father, then aged 27, was an Irish citizen. When the mother became pregnant, the father, ‘Patrick’, refused to marry her, leaving her in a difficult position. In the family division of the High Court, Mr Justice Mostyn explained:
“Constance needed to find a husband quickly as a termination of the pregnancy was impossible – abortion was then a criminal offence. The idea of putting the new-born child up for adoption was unthinkable. Equally, to be known as bearing a child out wedlock would cover her in shame in her community. Her life was a maelstrom of painful dilemmas.”
Fortunately, Constance quickly found a substitute father for her child. The Judge continued:
“Constance described to me how she ‘disappeared’ when she discovered she was pregnant in order to avoid her family finding out the truth. She found and quickly married Dennis (born in 1938) who offered to stand as father to Ruth. To get her parents’ consent to the marriage (which was then required as she was under 21) she told everyone that Dennis was Ruth’s father, when she knew Patrick to be the father. This deceit was an absolute necessity as Constance’s parents would not have supported her in any way had they known that Constance was having an illegitimate child.”
When Constance gave birth, Dennis was registered as the girl’s father even though he was fully aware that he was not in reality. Ruth was eventually told the truth about the father at the age of 15. Mr Justice Mostyn reports that this was an “overpowering revelation” for her.
Meanwhile, Constance’s marriage broke down and she divorced Dennis. She later married a man called Edward, who was not told the true identify of Ruth’s father. Both Edward and Dennis have since passed away.
According to the judgement, Ruth kept the truth about her father secret as she grew up, seeing it as a “source of great shame”.
“It was never spoken about. This silence was in part due to the societal implications of being an illegitimate child, even in the late 20thcentury, and in part due to Ruth’s personal trauma suffered as a result of the revelation.”
Later in life, Ruth began training to become a therapist and it was only at that point she decided to deal with the lingering issue of her biological father. Her mother provided her with details of his identity and it did not take Ruth long to find him. At that time, Patrick ran a business in Ireland.
She got in touch and the two formed a belated relationship. Patrick acknowledged her as his daughter, explaining that he had not been told about the pregnancy until years after the fact.
Ruth was introduced to Patrick’s two younger daughters and his wife and they all accepted her as part of the family. Unfortunately, just a few years later, Patrick died due to complications from surgery.
Then, a full 13 years later, Ruth decided to apply to change her birth certificate, removing the references to Dennis and replacing them with Patrick. To have the certificate changed, she needed a court-issued ‘declaration of parentage’, stating that Patrick had indeed been her biological father. These can be issued under section 55A of the Family Law Act 1986. This states that:
“… any person may apply to the High Court or the family court for a declaration as to whether or not a person named in the application is or was the parent of another person so named.”
Mr Justice Mostyn considered the details of the application, given that Ruth was acting as an unrepresented litigant in person. He noted that, technically, a representative of Patrick’s estate should have been named as a respondent [involved party] rather than Patrick himself. He also considered whether or not there would have been any point in informing a representative of Dennis’ estate, but concluded this would not have served any real purpose because Ruth and Constance had had no contact with his family for many decades. DNA tests were also unlikely to have value, he decided, given the length of time since Patrick had passed away.
He concluded, therefore, that:
“I am entitled to determine the application on the basis of the evidence before me. That evidence amply satisfies me that it is far more likely than not that Patrick was Ruth’s true father. Finally, I cannot see any reason why it would be manifestly contrary to public policy to make the declaration sought. As I noted during the hearing, I consider, if anything, that it would be manifestly contrary to public policy if I were to refuse to make the declaration sought. I am therefore satisfied that I can and should make the declaration sought, namely that Patrick was Ruth’s father.”
A copy of the declaration would be sent to the Registrar General for Births and Deaths. Technically, it will be the responsibility of the Register to decide whether not to amend Ruth’s birth certificate, but, the Judge explained, it would be “most surprising” if they did not go ahead and do so on the basis of the declaration.
Read the full ruling here.
To discuss declarations of parentage please contact the Partners on 01223 443333.