In most states, a true sperm donor gives up his parental rights. However, some sperm donors are fighting for parental rights to the children they have fathered – and legislators are listening.
In the past, most state laws were clear that if the sperm donor is not the husband of the mother, the donor had no rights, obligations, or interest in the child resulting from the insemination. On the other hand, the child born as a result of the insemination had no rights, obligations, or interests with the donor. That means the donor didn’t have to pay child support, or have any visitation rights, and the child couldn’t expect support or inheritance from the donor. However, times appear to be changing.
In early 2015, a lesbian couple in New Jersey sought a sperm donor for their two children. At the time of donation, both donors agreed to leave the parenting to the women. However, after the children were born, they sought visitation rights. Contrary to existing state laws at the time, the donor seeking visitation rights with the child prevailed. Prior rules regarding donors no longer appear to hold weight, as biological fathers are prevailing in these custody cases.
The state of Kansas made headlines when the state itself sought to have a donor declared the father of a child born through insemination. In this instance, the man in question responded to a Craigslist ad posted by a couple seeking sperm to parent a child. This situation was atypical than most parentage cases, as it did not deal with the parent of the child or the donor seeking parental rights, but the state in which the insemination occurred. Kansas sought to hold the donor-father responsible for public assistance paid by the state and future child support until the child reaches the age of 18.
The Modern Trend
In 2013, Hollywood actor Jason Patric sought to change the existing laws in California regarding sperm donor and parental rights. Prior to this case, California courts never recognized the rights of a sperm donor who aren’t married to the mother. As a result of Patric’s case though, a California appeals court held that a sperm donor can establish a familial relationship with the child if the donor-father has demonstrated a commitment to the child and the child’s welfare would be best served by having the sperm donor be a presumed father.
Prompted in part by this high-profile case, California passed the Modern Family Act into law last year. The new law provides that sperm donors may fill out a form indicating what their duties and responsibilities will be in the child’s life. By making the expectations explicitly understood between the parties, the hope is that families will avoid legal disputes later on about custody, support, and other parentage issues. However, many legal analysts argue that a written agreement may not be as secure an agreement as hoped. Constitutional law may grant biological fathers a right to their children if they have acted like fathers, regardless of how the child was created.