Those of us who practice family law deal with a number of common issues ranging from separations to custody and everything in between. And while most of these cases are routine, every now and then a case comes along that shakes up the way we look at common issues in family law. This happened with a case, filed in August by the California Court of Appeals for the Fourth District, dealing with whether or not a sperm donor can be on the hook for making child support payments. The short answer, in this case, was yes.
A Little Background
This particular case occurred between the County of Orange and a local pilot whose sperm had been used to impregnate a woman through in vitro fertilization. The woman gave birth to a boy and, six years later, the County of Orange filed a complaint to declare the man the father of the child, and require him to pay support.
According to court documents, the man and the woman first met in 1991, and began a sexual relationship in 2005. They discussed raising a child together despite the fact that the man had a vasectomy. Ultimately, the man agreed to have his sperm extracted, and the woman paid for in vitro fertilization. The procedure was done despite the fact that the man was married to another woman, and had children with his wife. The woman in this case knew the man was married, but believed he was separated from his wife. The man would spend as few as two nights a week at the mistresses’ house. She believed that his frequent absences were due to his job as a pilot.
The child was born in 2008, and the man was present in the delivery room for the child’s birth. Though the man didn’t financially support the child, he did buy the child gifts, occasionally bought groceries, and even bought a car for the child’s mother. Though he never brought the child to his own house, or introduced the child to his wife and older children, he did identify the child as his son to family and friends of the child’s mother.
However, in 2010, the man cut ties with the woman and child. In 2014, the county of Orange filed a complaint against the man asking that he be declared the child’s biological father, and that he be ordered to pay child support. A lower court obliged with the request, but the man appealed the decision arguing that he was not the child’s biological father.
What the Law Says
Family Code § 7613 specifically deals with sperm donors and the issue of paternity. Subdivision (b) states that a sperm donor is not considered the natural parent unless otherwise agreed to in writing by the donor and woman prior to conception of the child.
A law like this makes practical sense. In many cases, a man’s donated sperm could be used to anonymously impregnate multiple women. Without such a law, a man who donates his sperm to a medical facility, could one day potentially find himself financially responsible multiple children despite the fact that neither he nor the children’s mother intended such a relationship.
Based on this section of law alone, it would seem the man in this particular case could conceivably make the claim that he was not the child’s father.
However, as the appellate court pointed out, this section isn’t the only relevant law applying in this case.
The other relevant section of law can be found in Family Code §7611(d), which states: “A person is presumed to be the natural parent of a child if…the presumed parent receives the child into his or her home and openly holds out the child as his or her natural child.”
Again, the man argued he couldn’t be considered the child’s father because he never received the child into his home. The court disagreed with this argument however, noting that he, “was in essence maintaining two homes during the first two and a half years of the child’s life—one with his wife and older children, and the other with (the other woman) and the child.”
“Thus a sperm donor who has established a familial relationship with the child and has demonstrated a commitment to the child and the child’s welfare, can be found to be a presumed parent even though he could not establish paternity based upon his biological connection to the child.”
The appellate court affirmed the lower court’s ruling that the man should pay child support and opened the door for the woman to recover legal costs.
Not a Typical Parenting Story, But Illuminating Nonetheless
Most people who visit this site won’t have to deal with the situation discussed in this article. However, stories like this offer insight into the family code, and the way the justice system works in family cases. While this case highlights the actions of a man who is acting in a less than honorable manner, there are many custody cases where fathers want to be involved in their children’s lives and fear they will be denied that opportunity. Whatever the situation, whether you’re a man seeking custody, a woman seeking fair support for herself and her children, or someone confused about what portion of community property they are entitled to, a good family lawyer is vital to helping you obtain a fair outcome.
If you are dealing with a custody issue of your own, it might be a good time to discuss your case with a qualified family attorney. If you have questions about custody, support, or some other family law issue, contact this office to see how we can help.