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Monday, May 5, 2014

Sperm Donors and Custody

Sperm-eggSunday's New York Times had a lengthy article on a custody battle that has raged for two years.  Danielle Schreiber, who runs a massage practice in California, and Jason Patric, a known but not well-known actor, conceived a child through articifial insemination in 2009.  The two had dated for a while, but they were not a couple at the time of the insemination, which resulted in a son named Gus.

Mr. Patric was a part of Gus's early life, as the baby rekindled the romance between the biological parents.  The couple never co-habited, but Mr. Partric claims that he played a parentral role until 2012 when the pair split up.  Mr. Patric filed a paternity suit and sought shared custody.  For a while thereafter, Ms. Schreiber allowed Mr. Patric to visit Gus, but then she cut off such visits.  

The Times story does not make especially clear what the case turns on.  California law is clear, according to the Times, that sperm donors are not treated as "natural fathers" unless a written agreement so provides.  The Times states that the parties had no such agreement, but did they have any agreement at all?  Both parties seem to have considered their options carefully, and both clearly have the means to consult attorneys when they need to.  Is it really possible that they did not imagine anything could possibly go wrong?  Did they not discuss the possibility that Mr. Patric would want to be invovled in his son's life, even if not as a father?  Not that a contract could eliminate all possible legal difficulties going forward, but they certainly could have used a writing to clarify their intentions at the time the child was conceived.

 In any case, it does not seem from the Times' account that Mr. Patric's custody and paternity claims are based solely on the fact that he was the sperm donor.  Rather, he seems to be claiming that he acted as a parent during the child's first years and that the child regarded him as his father.  Ms. Schreiber won at the trial level, and Mr. Patric has appealed; not only in the courts, but also through the media.

I'm have trouble embedding the videos, so you can follow this link to watch Mr. Patric tell his side of the story to Katie Couric and this link to watch Ms. Schreiber tell her side of the story on the Today Show.

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/contractsprof_blog/2014/05/sperm-donors-and-custody.html

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