In the case of the two men who had contracted with a woman living in California in a case of international surrogate motherhood, a Court of Appeal has recently issued its ruling, reversing in part the decision of the lower court (Court of Appeal of Liège, 1st Chamber, ruling of 6 September 2010, docket No 2010/RQ/20).
As has been indicated, the lower court had denied any recognition to the birth certificates of the twin girls issued by the authorities in California. The lower court had based its reasoning primarily on the violation of the public policy exception, holding that the birth certificates were only the last step in a series of events which started with the surrogacy agreement. The court placed great weight on the fact that this agreement violated basic human dignity in that it put a price on the life of a child.
In appeal, the Court again reviewed the matter ab novo. It found that the first step in the analysis was to review whether the birth certificates could have been issued if the rules of Belgian private international law had been applied. This test is mandated by Article 27 of the Code of Private International Law, which requires that foreign acts, including acts concerning the civil and family status of individuals, comply with the requirements of the law(s) declared applicable by the Belgian rules of private international law. Since both men were Belgian nationals, the Court of Appeal first undertook to determine whether the birth certificates could have been issued applying Belgian law.
The Court proceeded first to review the situation of the parent who was the biological father of the twin girls. It found that under Belgian law, since the surrogate mother was not married, the father could have recognized the children and hence legally become their father. The situation was different for the other man who had ‘commissioned’ the children, as he was not biologically linked with the children. The Court found that under Belgian law, there was no possibility to establish a legal parentage between a child and two persons of the same sex, outside the specific situation of adoption by same sex couples.
Having found that at least one of the commissioning parents could have established his paternity over the children, had Belgian law been applied, the Court undertook to review the impact on this paternity of the very peculiar circumstances which surrounded the birth of the twin. Specifically the Court examined whether these circumstances, and in particular the existence of a contract between the mother and the commissioning parents, contract which had given rise to the payment of money, did not lead to a violation of public policy.
While it recognized that contracts which directly concern human beings and the human body were void under public policy principles, the Court noted that the public policy reservation called for a nuanced application. Among the principles which could be taken into consideration in the light of the public policy mechanism, the Court singled out the interest of the children, as protected both by international law instrument and the Belgian Constitution. According to the Court, this interest would be unreasonably curtailed if the children, who resided in Belgium, were deprived of any legal link with their biological father, while at the same time they could not legally be considered the children of the mother who had carried and delivered them. The same could not be said, however, according to the Court, for the legal link between the twin sisters and the other man.
Accordingly, the Court only partially granted the relief sought by the two men. It decided to recognize and give effects to the birth certificates issued in California in so far as they form the basis for the legal link between the sisters and their biological father.
While this ruling may not be the last word in this case, it is quite likely that the other parent will now seek to adopt the children.
Editors’ note: Patrick Wautelet is a professor of law at Liege University.