The justice system struggles with the scientific options available to parents, and in many ways, it lags far behind the rapid change in family constellations.
Nowhere is that more evident than in the custody dispute between Hollywood actor Jason Patric and his former girlfriend Danielle Schreiber, who are involved in an epic-style ‘Kramer v. Kramer’ legal battle involving Patric’s custody and visitation rights of their four-year-old son Gus, born by artificial insemination. Even though they were no longer a couple, Mr. Patric volunteered to be a sperm donor, and he remained in close contact with the boy until the relationship with Ms. Schreiber ended in 2012. That same year, the actor filed a petition to establish a parental relationship.
Recently, a California appeals court ruling upheld Mr. Patric’s paternity rights, indicating that, as the sperm donor, he had demonstrated a close and committed relationship with the child. His ex girlfriend ‘respectfully’ disagreed with the court’s decision and is allegedly exploring her legal options. The recent decision may set a new legal precedent in the state for the rights of sperm donors. Until now, California courts had never recognized a right of a sperm donor who isn’t married to the mother to make a paternity claim.
In The New Love Deal, which I wrote with Terry Savage and retired judge Michele Lowrance, now a mediator, we address the issue of artificial insemination and parental rights, and we advise that these situations present complex legal issues newly surfacing in modern times.
Who really is the father of a child born to cohabiting partners who utilized one of the sophisticated techniques available to artificially inseminate the mother? What if the sperm donor is the unmarried partner? What if the sperm donor is a third party friend to both of them? What if the sperm donor is a former partner who has become ‘just a friend?’ What if the sperm donor is, in fact, a stranger who was promised anonymity and never wanted to be a father at all?
These are all questions being asked in courts across the country, and for now, at least, the answers can depend in part on where the couple lives. The state of California, for example, has had a particularly confusing set of laws relating to sperm donors, and parental rights and obligations.
The California courts are not alone in their confusion. A Kansas man who signed away his parental rights believing he was only a sperm donor to a same sex couple, in fact found himself ordered to pay child support as the biological dad.
One of the reasons we authors of The New Love Deal advocate open and transparent conversations about love, money and the future between partners is that they so often will affect the well-being of a child. Those conversations ideally would lead to a legally-sanctioned agreement or at least written promises as to who will be the legal father of any child they bring into the world using artificial insemination.
Today, new ‘love deals’ need to be struck for anything that involves a married or unmarried couple. From my experience as a divorce lawyer, I’ve learned that if partners would treat their relationship as a deal when they start out, the end – if it happens – would not be so difficult and expensive. More importantly, it is in the ‘best interest’ of any child.
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles via freedigitalphotos.net