Women who conceal pregnancy must show strong reasons for keeping fathers in dark

Women who conceal pregnancies must produce “compelling reasons” for keeping fathers in the dark about plans for children’s futures, senior judges say.

Three Court of Appeal judges say fathers have rights and there must be “strong reasons” for not notifying them of plans, such as adoption.

Judges say the welfare of a child is an important but not “compelling” reason for keeping a father out of the picture.

They say family court judges must fairly balance the “various interests” involved before deciding whether or not a father should be told.

Sir Andrew McFarlane, Lord Justice Peter Jackson and Lady Justice Nicola Davies have aired their views in a ruling after a Court of Appeal hearing in London.

They examined appeals in cases in which family court judges had analysed issues relating to whether or not fathers, or other relatives, should be told of plans for children whose existence had been concealed from them.

In two cases woman wanted children adopted.

Judges upheld an appeal against a family court judge’s ruling that a father need not be told of a child’s birth.

They dismissed an appeal against ruling that a father should be told.

They also dismissed an appeal against a ruling that a child’s maternal grandparents should be told.

“Once the facts have been investigated the task is to strike a fair balance between the various interests involved,” said Lord Justice Jackson.

“The welfare of the child is an important factor but it is not the paramount consideration.”

Royal Courts of Justice stock
The Royal Courts of Justice in central London (Nick Ansell/PA)

He added: “The fact that a father has parental responsibility by marriage or otherwise entitles him to give or withhold consent to adoption and gives him automatic party status in any proceedings that might lead to adoption. Compelling reasons are therefore required before the withholding of notification can be justified.”

Lord Justice Jackson said regardless of whether a father had established a “family life” with the mother or child, he had a right to a “fair hearing”.

He said “strong reasons” were required before the “withholding of notification” could be justified.

Sir Andrew and Lady Justice Davies said they agreed.

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