Dads forced to adopt their own children in US to bring them home to New Zealand – Stuff.co.nz

Ron and Fabian Eckstrom-French had to adopt their own children from themselves while living overseas to bring them home to New Zealand, in a case that lays bare the discriminatory pitfalls around the countrys surrogacy laws.

The couple became fathers to twin boys born via a surrogate while they were living in the United States six years ago.

Both men fertilised the eggs the surrogate carried, which were from an egg donor.

Following a stringent legal process in America, they were marked as parents on the boys birth certificate from the moment they were born, costing them about $30,000 in legal fees.

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Fabian has New Zealand and US citizenship and Ron is a permanent New Zealand resident and a US citizen.

But the pair could not get Kiwi passports for their boys because New Zealand did not recognise them as legal parents.

DAVID WHITE/STUFF

Ron and Fabian Eckstrom-French had twin boys via surrogate in the US six years ago. Despite being their legal parents, they were not recognised as their dads in New Zealand.

According to the rules here, the legal parents were the surrogate and her partner.

To change this, the two men needed to bring the children home on a temporary visa and go through the adoption process here, including proving they were fit parents.

The couple found this insulting, degrading and impractical. They tried to apply through a unique circumstances section of the citizenship act, but were rejected twice.

On principle, they refused to submit to a process where they had to prove they were fit parents, so found another, more palatable and less complicated way.

Their US lawyer said they could adopt the children from themselves, since they were legally parents in the US, so they would finally be recognised as parents in New Zealand as well.

This cost them another $7000 in legal fees but worked, and the children obtained citizenship in January.

The family moved to New Zealand in September.

DAVID WHITE/STUFF

New Zealands outdated surrogacy laws are degrading and backward, the couple believe.

It was shocking for us because New Zealand has this reputation of being really progressive, and by and large peoples mindset is progressive, Ron said.

But the laws are really outdated.

The two dads are among those calling for an urgent change to New Zealands surrogacy rules, which they say are degrading and cause financial and emotional distress.

Last week the Law Commission started a review of surrogacy laws, commissioned in July by then-Justice Minister Andrew Little.

The review was one of Labours pre-election promises as part of its rainbow policy to remove discriminatory practices from adoption and surrogacy rules.

A previous Law Commission review in 2005 found an urgent need for specific surrogacy legislation. This recommendation was accepted in principle by the government but to date no changes have been made.

Surrogacy is where a woman agrees to become pregnant and give birth to a child on behalf of another person or people who will raise the child.

Lawrence Smith

Surrogacy is accepted by a majority of New Zealanders, but the laws remain problematic. (File photo)

Stuff talked to about a dozen people, including intended parents, egg donors and surrogate mothers, who said the laws need to change to make it easier for gay couples and couples with fertility issues to become parents.

Despite being very private people, Ron and Fabian had such a hard time they felt compelled to tell their story.

In 2015, they took the children home to spend Christmas with their New Zealand family.

They received a letter from Immigration New Zealand (INZ) during the trip telling them they had broken the law by bringing two unaccompanied minors into the country.

The underlying message was that we are kidnapping our own children and authorities could take custody of those children, Ron said.

It was completely insulting. New Zealand is the only country we have been where we had an issue. Most other countries in the world recognise us as the childrens dads.

The pair rang INZ and were told they would be fine as long as they were just visiting, but they could not move here without adopting their children.

STUFF

What started out as an internet friendship has become a close bond between two families now linked through surrogacy. (Video first published May 2020)

The stress meant that when they flew to Auckland for another family visit the following year, neither slept during the 15-hour flight, worried they would be turned away on arrival.

The New Zealand government says [strict surrogacy rules] are to protect women from being taken advantage of.

I dont even get that. We didn't go to the slums of India. We spent over a quarter [of a] million dollars to complete the process. We are friends with them (the surrogates).

They are educated, career women with their own children and vetted by psychologists, Ron said.

Australia, the UK, the US and many European countries have more lenient surrogacy laws, which make it easier and less expensive for gay and infertile couples to have a child via surrogate.

Canterbury University associate professor Debra Wilson, who has been leading a group researching surrogacy, said the practice was accepted by a majority of New Zealanders, but the laws remained problematic.

She surveyed 600 Kiwis: 54 per cent approved it and 30 per cent did not object to it.

John Kirk-Anderson/Stuff

Amira Mikhail published a book in 2017 called Mission to Motherhood, revealing her battle with endometriosis, infertility, miscarriage, IVF and finally successful surrogacy.

The survey asked who the legal parents of the child born following surrogacy should be.

Only 10 per cent said the surrogate, with over 50 per cent saying the intended parents.

When asked what the courts should do if the surrogate changed her mind and wanted to keep the baby, only 16 per cent thought the court should give custody to the surrogate.

Wilson said New Zealand had fallen behind most similar countries, and needed to catch up.

Parents need to bond with their new child, not spend the child's first year stressed about adoption or parentage rights.

Current rules prevent the intended parents giving the surrogate any money, even for maternity clothes and other expenses directly related to the pregnancy, which can add stress for all parties, she said.

Wilson agreed current rules were outdated, degrading and stressful, and said judges made similar comments in applications for adoption.

If the law makes it too hard to enter a surrogacy arrangement in New Zealand, people will just go overseas, and that creates further issues.

Currently, surrogacy arrangements are not illegal but cannot be enforced. Intended parents cannot pay surrogates or egg donors and have to adopt the children after they are born.

In 2005, the Law Commission recommended a change to allow parents to apply for a parenting order prior to the childs birth. The Government agreed in principle but nothing has changed since then.

Timelines for the review are still being finalised; it will consult with the public next year and welcomes views from people with personal experience of surrogacy.

A spokeswoman for Immigration New Zealand said Kiwis living overseas and visiting this country for a short time with their children born via surrogates need to demonstrate that the children have been adopted by them.

This is because New Zealand needs to meet its obligations in relation to stopping the irregular movement of children across borders.

Adoptions need to be legal adoptions which are recognised in New Zealand (but not necessarily a New Zealand adoption).

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Dads forced to adopt their own children in US to bring them home to New Zealand - Stuff.co.nz

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