A case in which a transsexual man applied for contact with a nine-year-old autistic girl, who viewed him as a father figure, prompted a family judge to comment on the ever-increasing complexity of modern family life.
The girl, Alice, was born to her lesbian mother following artificial insemination and the sperm donor father was himself in a gay relationship. When she was aged three, her schizophrenic mother was detained in a secure mental hospital and her partner, Helen, became Alice’s full time carer.
Helen and Alice then lived with Matthew, a female to male transsexual, as a family unit for four years until Alice was aged seven. After that relationship ended, Alice lived with Helen and her two other daughters, but continued to have regular contact with her biological mother and father.
The picture was complicated further when Matthew, who had since formed a stable relationship with a man, said he too wanted to play a part in Alice’s life. He said that his position was ‘analogous to that of a step-parent’. He had formed a close bond with Alice when they lived together and she had called him ‘dad’.
In refusing to allow Matthew to proceed with his contact application, however, the judge described the case as ‘exceptional’ and found that Alice’s life was already complicated enough. He accepted that Matthew may well have become Alice’s ‘social and psychological parent’ but noted her autism and the number of adults with whom she was already engaged. A contested court hearing would potentially conflict with Alice’s welfare or cause her harm.