The High Court of Australia Recognizes Sperm Donor is Father Due To His Active Involvement In Child's Life

The High Court of Australia Recognizes Sperm Donor is Father Due To His Active Involvement In Child's Life

A recent ruling could have serious implications for known sperm donors in Australia. Australia’s High Court ruled that a sperm donor who has been actively involved in his daughter’s life should be granted rights as a legal parent of his daughter.

The Court recognized that a 49-year-old Australian man who donated his sperm to a friend had done so with the intention of raising the child together with the child’s mother. The decision of the High Court blocks an attempt by the biological mother to relocate with the child and her partner to New Zealand.

This case is significant because a man who donates sperm to a single woman and who plays a role in the child’s life may actually be considered a legal parent under the law in Australia, with all of the legal rights and obligations associated with that right.

Procedural Background

This case involves a lesbian couple, Susan and Margaret Parsons (pseudonym’s given by the court) who have two children that were conceived through artificial insemination. Susan gave birth to both children and one of the children was conceived when the Australian man in this case (pseudonym, Robert Masson) donated his sperm to his friend (Susan Parsons) in a private insemination. The other child was conceived using an unknown sperm donor. Masson was close to both children.

Robert and Susan had been friends for 20 years at the time of conception. At the time, the man agreed he would help raise the child as a parent, which included providing for her financial support and physical care. In 2015, when the biological mother and her partner made plans to move to New Zealand with the child, the biological father was forced to initiate legal proceedings to block the move.

The Family Court Decision

The legal issue in this case involved whether NSW (New South Wales) state law should apply instead of commonwealth laws. Australia (or the Commonwealth of Australia) is a Federation with six states. NSW is one of the states (Sydney is the state capital). Under NSW state law, a sperm donor is presumed not to be a father of a child conceived using his sperm unless he is a spouse or de facto partner of the biological mother. The legal presumption is irrebuttable, which simply means it cannot be overcome by additional evidence.

However, Family Court judges in Australia rely on Commonwealth laws that do not define the rights of a sperm donor if the mother does not have a partner at the time of conception. In 2017, the Family Court ruled that Parsons and her partner were not in a ‘de facto’ relationship at the time of conception and that their relationship was developing. As a result, Margaret was not a legal parent.

After the court’s application of the 1975 Family Law Act, it was decided that Masson was the father instead and Susan and Margaret were blocked from relocating to New Zealand. Susan and Margaret were to have equal parental responsibility with the biological father and were ordered to consult with him before making any long-term decisions about his biological daughter.

The decision was appealed and the High Court was asked to determine the definition of legal parent under the Australian Family Law Act, and its relationship to NSW Status of Children Act, which contains an irrebuttable presumption stating, “If a woman…becomes pregnant by means of a fertilization procedure using any sperm obtained from a man who is not her husband, that man is presumed not to be the father of any child born as a result of the pregnancy.” The Full Court ordered that the sperm donor, Robert Masson, was not a parent.

Appeal to the High Court of Australia

Robert Masson appealed. The court ruled that the state law was overruled by the federal statute, and concluded the 1975 act was not specific in deciding parentage when assisted conception is used by a woman without a spouse or de facto partner. The court stated, “the term ‘sperm donor’ suggests that the man in question has relevantly done no more than provide his semen to facilitate an artificial conception procedure on the basis of an … understanding that he is thereafter to have nothing to do with any child born.” However, under the facts of the case, it was clear Masson had developed a meaningful relationship with the child.

The High Court gave significant weight to the fact that the biological father maintained a close relationship with the child after her birth. For example, he was present at birth and cut her umbilical cord. In addition, the biological father included his name on the child’s birth certificate and the child affectionately referred to him as “daddy.” Mr. Masson also had overnight visits and attended activities with the child such as ballet rehearsals. By all accounts, it was evident Masson developed a significant relationship with his biological daughter.

The Court recognized that Masson believed he was fathering a child and that he would support and care for her. After the relationship between the biological parents broke down, Masson continued to remain heavily involved in his daughter’s life. The Court stated that the biological father played an “ongoing role in the child’s financial support, health, education, and general welfare.” Since the biological father played such an active role in his daughter’s life, it helped establish the fact that his relationship with the girl was an “extremely close and secure” attachment, and supported his argument that his role in his daughter’s life went far beyond that of a mere sperm donor.

This case is significant because a man who donates sperm to a single woman and who plays a role in the child’s life may actually be considered a legal parent under the law in Australia, with all of the legal rights and obligations associated with that right. It’s important to mention that this decision does not apply to an anonymous sperm donor who has never seen or had a relationship with their biological child. What is distinguishable here is that you have a known donor who developed a close relationship with the child.

Interestingly, the practical application of the judgment means that a sperm donor who is actively involved in raising the child could be required to pay child support, even if the donor never intended to be a father. This decision highlights the risks associated with a birth mother’s decision to use a known sperm donor, particularly if the insemination is not done under a doctor’s supervision in a clinic.

Parallels with the Jason Patric Case In California

The Australian High Court’s ruling echoes that of a case here in California regarding a custody dispute involving actor Jason Patric over a child who was conceived from his donated sperm. Although Patric was not married to his biological son’s mother, he slowly developed a father-son relationship with him while he was in a romantic relationship with the mother. At the time Patric agreed to in-vitro fertilization, his then-girlfriend had moved out of Patric’s home and indicated that she planned to have a child as a single mother. Patric wrote her a letter saying that he was not ready to be a father, but that it was okay for her to use his sperm to conceive a child as long as she told no one about the arrangement.

After the birth of their son, Patric formed a relationship with his biological son and spent time together with him. He remained in contact with the boy until his ex-girlfriend terminated contact with Patric. Patric’s case went up to the California Court of Appeals, which ultimately held Jason Patric is the legal parent of his biological son conceived through in vitro fertilization with his ex-girlfriend.

Beginning January 1, 2016, California implemented AB 960, which provides additional protections for families conceiving children through assisted reproduction. This law applies to situations where families conceive a child thorugh at-home insemination and to unmarried parents. In addition, California statutes now include specific form language that can be used to show the intentions of parents and donors involved in the conception of a child.

Legal Advice You Can Count On

California has made significant strides to protect families created through the use of assisted reproduction. However, we strongly advise all parents attempting to conceive a child through assisted reproduction should speak to an experienced family law attorney before becoming pregnant.

If you have a question regarding parentage in California, you should consult an attorney from Castellanos & Associates, APLC. For more than twenty years, our legal team has provided compassionate legal representation to families throughout Los Angeles and Southern California.

For a free consultation, call us at (323) 212-5599 or contact usonline today.