What Makes A Parent? California Sperm Donor Laws and Fathers Rights

The law hasn’t caught up with society and technology on this, making this a tricky legal question to answer sometimes. Making a baby the traditional way typically only involved a woman, a man, and a bottle of tequila. Now, a whole range of medical interventions and contractual arrangements exist to create families in new ways. In addition, single parents, same-sex parents, and blended families are far more common, changing the presumptions of what constitutes family and parenthood. Gestational surrogacy arrangements crossing state and national borders have been in the news lately, but it is the breakdown in Jason Patric’s sperm donation arrangement that actually has the potential to change California law.

First, some context: Jason Patric, star of The Lost Boys and (post-Kiefer Sutherland and pre-Lyle Lovett) former man friend of Julia Roberts, was in a long-term relationship with Danielle Schreiber, an attorney. They unsuccessfully tried to conceive using the traditional method (tequila use not confirmed). Then, they broke up. He agreed to donate his sperm to enable her to conceive via IVF  after they were no longer a couple. She got pregnant as a result and the child, Gus, is now four years old.

What they specifically agreed to is hotly contested. He claims that he is the child’s father and entitled to custody. She claims that he was acting as a sperm donor and that she intended to be the child’s sole parent. Gus’ birth certificate does not list a father. How much Patric has participated in Gus’ life is also contested.  Patric claims he was heavily involved in Gus’ life, and that he has a room for the child in his home. Schreiber claims that his involvement was sporadic and Patric didn’t even buy a crib until after he had initiated his paternity suit.*

Current California law holds that a sperm donor who is not married to the mother has no legal rights to the child unless the parties come to an agreement in writing prior to the child’s conception. As the result of this well-publicized drama, which involves teams of lawyers and public relations firms on both sides (and a domestic violence restraining order against Patric), California Assemblyman Tom Ammiano of San Francisco introduced the Modern Family Act. The bill seeks to simplify and clarify parental rights (if any) of sperm donors and of surrogates, and streamline the process of step-parent adoptions. The State Assembly passed the bill in May of this year and is now headed to the State Senate for consideration.

If you are considering entering into a non-anonymous sperm donation agreement to create your family, please consult a family law attorney to ensure that the arrangement that you’ve agreed to is one that what the law will uphold. And remember, tequila is now optional.

*We know you’ve already read it, but for more on paternity cases, please see previous NBB blog post entitled, “Hey Girl, Let’s Have a Gosling.” It is worth reviewing again, if only for the very pretty pictures of a very pretty man.

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