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Rights of a Sperm Donor

There are several sperm donor cases in the headlines right now.  If you’ve followed Jason Patric’s appeal in the California courts, it is clear that there are two very different versions of their son’s conception.  The mother claims that Jason Patric wanted nothing to do with a child, but was willing to donate sperm.  Jason Patric claims that he at all times wanted to be a father and because of fertility problems, utilized a sperm bank.  Should a biological father who wants to be a father to his child be a legal father?  The trial court in California denied Jason Patric’s petition, citing a law that limits a sperm donor’s rights.  Under California law, when a man donates sperm to an unmarried woman who becomes pregnant through insemination and the assistance of a health care provider, that man has no legal rights to the child. The purpose of the law is to encourage men to donate sperm, without having to worry that they will have the duties and responsibilities of being a father to a child they don’t know or co-parent with a woman they don’t know or have a relationship with.

What can a sperm donor expect in Indiana?  There are not many cases in Indiana interpreting similar laws, but it appears our courts agree that a sperm donor is not a father if an unmarried woman conceives a child through insemination by a physician.  In all other cases, Indiana courts want a father to be a father—with parenting time, child support, and all other rights and duties that go along with it.  In a January, 2013 decision by the Indiana Court of Appeals, a married couple had two children conceived with the assistance of a sperm donor.  The couple were unable to have children and agreed to use a friend’s sperm to conceive two children.  Several years later when the couple filed for divorce, the Father argued that because he was not the biological father of the two children, he had no duty to pay child support for their benefit.  The Court of Appeals disagreed, noting that because the children were born while the couple was married, they were legally presumed to be children of that marriage and thus, the Father was the legal Father with rights to spend parenting time with his children as well as obligations to pay support for those children.

On the other hand, another decision by the Indiana Court of Appeals upheld a sperm donor agreement that clearly limited the sperm donor’s responsibilities to donating sperm and waiving any rights or responsibilities of parenting time or child support.   In that case, a woman and her female life partner wanted to have a child together.  The two women contracted with a male sperm donor and were able to conceive a child.  Several years later when the two women separated, the biological mother brought a paternity action against the sperm donor seeking child support.  Mother argued that her donor agreement with the biological father was void and should not be enforced.  The Father argued that it was a valid contract.   Interestingly, no one ever advised the Court whether the child was conceived via insemination or otherwise.  The Court determined that if the child was conceived by way of artificial insemination through a licensed physician, then the contract was valid.  On the other and, if the child was conceived through intercourse, then the father was now a father with the duty to pay child support.  Ultimately, Mother failed to prove that her child was conceived by any way other than artificial insemination, per the agreement, and as a result, the donor agreement was upheld as enforceable.  The Court of Appeals, however, went out of its way to clarify that fathers cannot merely sign an agreement and give up rights to a child in Indiana.  Only under special circumstances can a sperm donor remain a sperm donor, with no further rights or duties. The rights of a sperm donor, a biological mother, or a spouse are complex and before you give up your rights or attempt to contract your rights involving a child, give me a call.

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Beckman Lawson, LLP
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Fort Wayne, IN 46802

Phone: 260-422-0800
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