WASHINGTON, May 2, 2014 —The definition of family has expanded in recent years. With the acceptance of divorce, open adoption and same sex marriage, the image of Mom, Dad and 2 ½ children can no longer be assumed.
Now the courts are being asked to decide if sperm donors are also parents.
Although the vast majority of sperm donations are provided by strangers, there is a growing trend toward of asking a male they know to assist in the creation of their child.
Some infertile couples like knowing the sperm donor so they feel like they have some control over the genetics of their child. They find it comforting to know the physical characteristics, mental health background and heritage of the donor.
However, laws concerning sperm donation were passed before the use of in vitro fertilization became widely used, and many are now under scrutiny.
In January of this year, William Marotta, was ordered by a Kansas court to pay child support as well as an additional $4,000 back to the state for the public assistance that was provided for a 4 year old girl.
Marotta answered an ad on Craigslist from two lesbians who were looking for a sperm donor to conceive a child.
Marotta says that out of kindness, he gave the women the donation for free, and signed documents waiving his rights to the child.
The court ruled against Marotta because the couple had not complied with the state law that requires the donation to be under the supervision of a doctor.
California’s donation laws have come under scrutiny due to a high profile case.
California, like many other states, have conflicting statues when it coming to parental rights of a sperm donor.
One law states that any man can establish parenthood if he “receives the child into his home and openly holds the child out as his natural child.” But another states that a man who provides sperm to a doctor for the purpose of conceiving a child through insemination of an unmarried friend will be treated as if he were not the natural parent unless there is a written agreement prior to the insemination stating otherwise.
The case that puts these two statutes on different sides is that of Jason Patric and Danielle Schreiber.
Patric is a movie star who became a celebrity after his role in The Lost Boys, and Schreiber is a massage therapist.
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This case is either about a father who is cruelly being prevented from seeing his son or about a woman protecting her right to be a single mother, depending on which side of the courtroom one is sitting on.
Patric and Schreiber had been romantically involved and had tried to have a child together, but all attempts failed.
In 2009, after the couple had broken off their romantic relationship but remained friends, decided to have a child through in vitro insemination.
A son, Gus, was conceived.
In 2012, after the couple broke off all involvement, Schreiber started refusing to allow Patric any visitation of Gus.
Patric went to the court to receive visitation rights and Schreiber asked the court to terminate any parenting rights of Patric because he was simply a sperm donor.
Schreiber won the lower court’s decision, but now the case has moved on to the appellate court.
The decision to use a sperm donor is a deeply personal one which is often made through an emotional process but all parties involved do need to understand that there are potentially legal consequences as well.
There is little consistency in the laws governing parental rights and responsibilities of sperm donors.
America’s increasingly inconsistent definition of what makes a family, along with the fact that sperm donation is such a secretive business, makes this a complicated issue.
There is no doubt that the states are going to have to address their contradictory and outdated laws soon, but in situations where some sperm donors want to have parental rights and others do not, there will never be a law that can make everyone happy.