Mother who needlessly adopted own child after registrar error has adoption order revoked

A mother in a same sex relationship who adopted her own child after a registrar wrongly said her name was not allowed on the birth certificate has today had the adoption revoked at the High Court.

In a highly unusual move Mr Justice Alistair MacDonald revoked the adoption order and quashed the original birth certificate.

The court heard that Sarah Osborne, 48, and Helen Arnold, 48, had a baby through IVF in 2014, but when they tried to register the child’s birth they were told by the registrar that Sarah could not added as a parent as there ‘could only be one mother’.

The law states that same sex female couples who have a child through IVF – and who consented to being treated as a parent – should be named on the child’s birth certificate.

Despite this, the couple, who have waived their anonymity to highlight the issue and make sure it does not happen to anybody else, had to go through an arduous adoption process so Sarah could be recognised as their child’s parent.

The court heard that it was only when they had their second child in 2018, and Sarah was registered as the parent, that they realised something was wrong. They launched a High Court legal bid through The Cambridge Family Law Practice (CFLP), to get the adoption of their child, who cannot be named for legal reasons, revoked and a fresh birth certificate issued.

Mr Justice MacDonald said: “I am certain that it has caused great stress and upset and I hope that by making the order today can bring a form of closure to them.”

Sarah said: “We are delighted that we have finally had this erroneous adoption order quashed and look forward to being registered, as I always have been, as the parent of my child. At the same time, we are very angry and deeply disappointed that we have had to fight so hard to put right Cambridgeshire County Council’s failures and get the adoption order revoked. We should never have been placed in this situation in the first place.

“It’s a travesty that we have had to go through this process all the way to the High Court, simply to get my right of being recognised as our child’s parent.”

Helen said: “We are delighted by today’s judgment which recognises that Sarah should never have had to adopt our child. We have both always been our child’s mothers and it is outrageous that we had to go through the painful and humiliating process of Sarah having to adopt. For our child it was simply unfathomable that they were adopted. To then find out that none of it was necessary was incomprehensible. The fact that our child has two mums already sets them apart, already represents something they need to learn to adapt to, explain and accept. Knowing that they were also ‘adopted’ was an added layer of complexity and was potentially very damaging to them and fails to reflect the reality of their life”.

The couple registered their child’s birth at Cambridge Register Office in August 2014. When the registrar said that Sarah could not be put on the birth certificate, they queried why this was. The registrar said that unless Sarah was the father, and she ‘clearly wasn’t’, then her name wasn’t permitted on the birth certificate.

Sarah added: “The disrespectful, indignant and flippant attitude of the registrar made me feel stupid for asking or expecting be named as a parent and I wasn’t worthy of such official recognition, as if I was a random stranger off the street.”

She was told she had to carry out a ‘step parent’ adoption when her child was six months old. Both had signed consent forms to give Sarah legal parenthood when they went through IVF.

She said: “In those moments I felt the pride and identity of being a mother stripped away from me by the registrar’s hostile, dismissive and inconsiderate comments which were devastating. I was, am and always have been, my child’s mother.”

Sarah was forced to have several meetings and phone calls with social workers in 2015 to ‘assess her suitability to be a parent’. She was told that adopting a child ‘was not to be taken lightly’ and had to complete a DBS form and apply to court.

The couple had an adoption hearing in November 2015 at Ipswich Family Court and a ‘celebratory ceremony’ at the court in December that year. At no point did any official recognise that Sarah should have legally been added to the birth certificate as the parent and that the adoption was totally unnecessary.

In 2020, the General Register Office admitted: “It would appear that the criteria for a joint registration showing both your details at the time of your child’s birth would have been met.”

Jeremy Ford, partner at CFLP, who represents the couple, said: “For Sarah and Helen, this should have been the simple and happy process of registering the birth of their child.  Instead, compounded mistakes snowballed into contriving an utterly false birth record for their child and their family. It is heart breaking that Sarah, the rightful parent of her and Helen’s child, had to go through the intrusive and needless adoption process. “

Marisa Allman, barrister for the couple at 36 Family said, “The whole episode has been extremely traumatic for them and I am delighted by today’s judgment which I hope will mean they can move on with their lives as a family. They should be commended for waiving their anonymity and bringing this issue to national attention as there may be other couples who have suffered the same injustice who can now take action themselves to ensure that the birth register reflects the reality for their family.”


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