Sperm donor or Presumed Father?

Sperm donor or Presumed Father?

The paternity suit involving Jason Patric has shown just how quickly technology can outdate statutes and laws. Jason Patric, an actor famous for roles in movies such as "The Lost Boys" and "Speed 2: Cruise Control" is currently involved in a bitter custody dispute with his former girlfriend, Danielle Schreiber. The impact of their case has brought much debate to SB 115 currently being voted on in California. SB 115 would give sperm donors more rights in certain cases, including visitation and parental status.

As it currently stands, the Uniform Parentage Act under Family Code 7613(b) holds that if a child is conceived through artificial insemination by a donor who is not married to the mother, is not the natural father unless there is a written agreement prior to conception.

In Patric's case, he was in a dating relationship with Schreiber for years. The two tried, but could not conceive naturally. In 2009, Shreiber underwent In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) using Patric's donated sperm. Gus was born that year through IVF. Patric claims they had plans to raise the child as a family. Schreiber disputes this and claims Patric was nothing more than a sperm donor who did not act as Gus' father after he was born. Although the two tell opposite stories, they both have plausible claims because of conflicting statutes.

Schreiber relies on Family Code 7613 (b) which taken literally, would give Patric no parental rights. As an unmarried sperm donor who made no written agreement that he would act as Gus' parent, Patric faces an uphill battle claiming parental rights. The rationale of 7613(b) is to allow people the opportunity to conceive children through artificial insemination. It also protects donors by relieving them from the responsibility of paying child support.

Patric however, falls in the gray area. He claims the only reason IVF was used is because the couple had trouble conceiving. He believes he was more than a sperm donor and had he been married to Schreiber, he would have been the presumed father even without a written agreement. He claims he is the presumed parent under Family Code 7611(d), stating that because he received Gus into his home and openly held him out as his child he should have parental rights. Schreiber refutes this and claims he never told his family about Gus nor did he hold him out as his child.

However the court eventually rules will have important implications on IVF, artificial insemination and relationships between donors and children. The Patric case highlights policy issues that will certainly be in dispute.

On one hand, how far can families go in allowing a donor into a child's life? When will donors cross the line and become a "presumed parent." Will unmarried sperm donors who do not have a written agreement with the biological mother get duped into believing they will be the father and then have to resort to judicial intervention to get parental rights.

On the other hand, will more women have to go with luck of the draw in selecting sperm donors rather than someone familiar to them? Will women be forced to cut off contact with donors which might affect the child for fear donors may change their minds about being a parent? Alternatively, will a donor agree to be a parent but later be uninvolved and reluctant to pay child support?

Whichever way the court rules in the Patric case and SB-115, it is clear that more people using IVF with familiar donors may end up in court or have disputes with a donor claiming to be a parent. Societal ideas of marriage, less "traditional" families and bonds between fathers and children have all been thrust into the debate surrounding the outcomes of the Patric case and SB-115.