May 3, 2014

When the "sperm donor" wants the legal status of father.

The actor Jason Patric is litigating over his status, struggling with a woman he never married and with a couple of abstruse California statutes. I put "sperm donor" in quotes in the title because Patric is squarely in the gray area between the traditional father and the sort of sperm donor whom the law properly shields (and cuts off) from parental rights and responsibilities.

The latter is someone who has no relationship with the mother at all — personal or sexual — and simply provides the material that is used to inseminate a woman who wants to have a child on her own or where there is another man who will be the father (but cannot provide the biological material).

The former is a man in a complete, ongoing, stable relationship with a woman who gives birth to a child as a consequence of the sexual intercourse that is an integral part of their relationship.

The woman Patric never married is Danielle Schreiber. The two (according to the linked NYT article) dated "off and on for a decade" and he tried to get her pregnant through sexual intercourse.
They decided in 2009 (at a time when they were not romantically involved but still friendly) to pursue artificial insemination....

The baby eventually helped rekindle a romance between Ms. Schreiber and Mr. Patric, although they never formally moved in together. 
When the couple broke up, Patric sued for shared custody, there was some mediation, he continuned to see the child, but then she cut off the visits. There's a dispute about whether he was scary and threatening. So that's the struggle with the woman.

The struggle with the California statutes is:
One provides that any man can establish parentage if he “receives the child into his home and openly holds the child out as his natural child.” But another statute holds that a man who provides his sperm to a doctor for the purpose of inseminating an unmarried friend is “treated as if he were not the natural father” — unless there is a specific written agreement ahead of conception.
There is no specific written agreement, but look at that first statute about holding the child out as your own. That seems to refer to a pre-DNA era. There's no question here that Patric is the biological father. So... does that mean that the law designed to protect the standard sperm donor should determine the outcome?

Is Patric's predicament unusual? The NYT connects it to the emerging practice of men informally providing sperm to women who want to be mothers. Citing "societal shifts," the Times prompts us to think about lesbian couples and single women who want to raise a child on their own who have obliging male friends and nobody bothers with the formalities sold by doctors and lawyers.

Patric is out there in public fighting for the rights of all these men who want the right to be part of their children's life. The mother is trying to get him to stop using the boy's name (for example in the name of the foundation, Stand Up for Gus), but she's been losing out to his free-speech rights. She seems mostly to want to be left alone. Meanwhile, there are the sperm donors who want to be left alone, who were only helping out a friend. Don't some of these men remain in the picture as a sort of uncle figure, doing some things with the child, but not too much?

One conspicuous celebrity can make soft-hearted/headed people think the laws need to change (or to be interpreted) to accommodate his exquisitely specific situation. I'm skeptical. I have no idea where the line should be drawn through the gray area Patric inhabits, and it's easy to say men should not become fathers outside of the traditional role, but in the midst of these "societal shifts," there's no way to protect everyone. And the knee-jerk answer "So protect the child!" is too abstract to prevent these ugly struggles.

ADDED: The NYT put this article in its "Fashion & Style" section. That means something!

24 comments:

Oso Negro said...

"Standard sperm donor" is to father as "zygote receptacle" is to mother. I look forward to the use of that language applied to the vaginocracy.

Oso Negro said...

Man seeks "Zygote Receptacle" 20 - 26 years old. Slim, athletic.

Phil 3:14 said...

Shouldn't this be one of Glenn Reynolds "21st century relationship" posts?

damikesc said...

So, if she wanted child support, he'd be the father.

If he wants to see the child, he ISN'T the father.

That's an intriguing situation, no?

Sperm donors are required to pay child support by states, even if the birth mothers oppose it. Why should the sperm donor, who faces that risk, not have the right to see the child born?

Jane the Actuary said...

First comment? Or perhaps Ann just hasn't approved others yet.

Anyway, this story is a surprise, coming after the situation in Kansas (?) where a "sperm donor" was held liable for child support because of regulations that say that, in order for the child to be legally "fatherless" the sperm donation has to be done under medical supervision rather than via a turkey baster.

I vote for deeming the dad, the dad in virtually all circumstances.

Consider the fact that, when sperm donation first appeared, the norm was that this was a way of helping infertile married men: the wife would become pregnant and the husband would automatically be recognized as father due to the legal principle that the husband is automatically the dad. No one envisioned single women using artificial insemination, nor the idea that, legally, the child would have, not an unknown father, but no father at all.

David said...

"There's a dispute about whether he was scary and threatening. So that's the struggle with the woman."

"She seems mostly to want to be left alone."

I'm skeptical.

Who knows what she wants. Vengeance can take many forms. And what's she going to do when the child decides to learn about the father?

ALP said...

The NYT connects it to the emerging practice of men informally providing sperm to women who want to be mothers.
*****************
Is this practice really just emerging? Sounds like what has been going on for centuries, maybe its just the up-front honesty ("I just want the sperm, not you") that is new.

traditionalguy said...

A sperm donor has sold his Fatherhood status. A Fatherhood IS a duty to protect and provide for the children.

Douglas said...

If a man wants to be part of his child's life, there's a simple solution - marry the mother. That's why we have the institution of marriage, to provide a stable environment for the rearing of children. Any law or rule that discourages or disincentives men from marrying the mother of their children is a bad law.

Sam L. said...

As damikese said, I, too, thought sperm donors got nailed as fathers for child support. Great way to eliminate anonymous sperm donors.

SGT Ted said...

She seems mostly to want to be left alone.

She wants to control the situation so that her wants are primary and the father is dismissed. Which isn't uncommon for women to do with children of former partners after a break-up.

What remains unexamined is the very selfish notion of single women that want to be pregnant with no father in the mix for the child, who deserves one.

It is one thing to not criticize single mothers after a divorce, but this elevation and societal esteeming of selfish and self-centered women having kids out of wedlock for "life fulfillment" purposes without a father for the child (who deserves one)is bullshit and it harms kids.

madAsHell said...

They decided in 2009 (at a time when they were not romantically involved but still friendly) to pursue artificial insemination....

They decided?...when the relationship was friendly

The baby eventually helped rekindle a romance between Ms. Schreiber and Mr. Patric, although they never formally moved in together.

Babies rekindle romance? The never moved in together??

The writer, Brooks Barnes must be a battered woman. The glass has just been shattered on her brow, but somehow it is still half full.

Ann Althouse said...

"A sperm donor has sold his Fatherhood status. A Fatherhood IS a duty to protect and provide for the children."

The post is about "sperm donors" who are not in the sperm-selling business but are contributing sperm in an ambiguous situation where they may be trying to have a child or they may be casually helping out a friend who wants a child. This is the "gray area" the post is about. The father wants to protect and provide for the child, but he has a legal problem. What is the right solution in the law? It's not clear!

Ann Althouse said...

"The glass has just been shattered on her brow, but somehow it is still half full."

However full or unfull, do not drink from a glass with shattered ceiling in it.

cubanbob said...

Perhaps Althouse can answer my question. As I understand the law a parent cannot disinherit a minor child. Assuming Patric has money and he should die before the child is eighteen doesn't the child have a claim to his estate? Absent some compelling reason that the father should be striped of his parental rights I don't see how the father can be held to be obligated to provide for the child and not be allowed to have a place in the child's life.

YoungHegelian said...

A little off topic, but related: Most states make "anonymous, no paternal responsibilities attached" sperm donation impossible without the involvement of doctors & lawyers. How's that for a perfect example of "regulatory capture" by the professions on getting pregnant, one of the most private of matters?

Revenant said...

You know, I'm not a social conservative by any means. But one point on which social conservatives and I agree is IF YOU WANT KIDS, GET MARRIED.

Sheesh.

jr565 said...

Is he just a sperm donor though? Most sperm donors aren't screwing the woman as a matter of course. And it sounds like he tried to get her pregenant through normal means because he wanted to be a dad.
Further he lived with her off and on, and after the baby was born the relationship was rekindled.
Don't see then why the courts would view him as anything but the father

jr565 said...

"The baby eventually helped rekindle a romance between Ms. Schreiber and Mr. Patric, although they never formally moved in together. When the couple broke up, Patric sued for shared custody, there was some mediation, he continuned to see the child, but then she cut off the visits."
When the relationship was rekindled how was Patrick treated by the mother. Was he the daddy? If so, I don't see how she could argue that he wasn't the daddy later on.

n.n said...

Sex is easy. Everyone and their ape's uncle can do it. Everything else is hard, which is why traditional morality argued against children having sexual relations. Unfortunately, with moral progress, the fine line separating children and adults has become confused.

Gahrie said...

What is the right solution in the law? It's not clear!

Sure it is.

Whatever the woman wants.

n.n said...

Revenant:

There is no need for a disclaimer. Social conservatives have observed that certain behaviors have inevitable consequences, and they have, through inspiration or deduction, identified strategies to mitigate the risk. Some, many, people do not want to know the outcome of their research, and the evidence of overwhelming historical precedents. So, they hope that disparaging the messengers will enable them to avoid reality through a willful ignorance.

Denton Romans said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Philip Ngai said...

What is the right solution in the law? It's not clear!

I guess the old standard "best interest of the child" doesn't apply any more.