Medical advances for those unable to conceive a child on their own have come a long way. IVF, surrogacy, artificial insemination, and sperm banks are all familiar terms and procedures. You or someone you know have grappled with fertility on the way to parenthood. This area of medicine and law is in flux and nobody knows this better than Hollywood actor, Jason Patric, best known from the film, Lost Boys.
In Jason P. v. Danielle S. 2014 Cal. App. LEXIS 418, we learn: Patric and a former girlfriend, Danielle Schreiber, lived together for many years. They tried to have a baby, naturally and with medical help but all attempts were unsuccessful. Thereafter, the two began living apart. Schreiber purchased sperm from a sperm bank and told Jason she was planning to be a single mom. Thereafter Schreiber moved back in with Patric while her home was being remodeled. A month later, in a written statement to Schreiber, Patric stated he was not ready to be a dad but she could use his sperm if she kept it a secret. Soon after, Patric took Schreiber to the procedure where she used Patric’s sperm and which resulted in the birth of baby Gus, in December, 2009.
Patric and Schreiber continued to be a part of each other’s lives after Gus’s birth. At trial, Patric presented evidence that Patric was referred to as “Dada” by both Schreiber and Gus, that both also stayed with Patric when Patric was on location and that Patric communicated with Gus when Patric was away. This contact stopped in the middle of 2012 when Schreiber ended her relationship with Patric.
For almost two years now, Patric has fought for recognition as a parent of his biological child, conceived by artificial insemination. This week, in Jason P. v. Danielle S. 2014 Cal. App. LEXIS 418., the California Court of Appeals entered the fight.
Under California law (Family Code Section 7613 and elsewhere,) sperm donors are afforded protection from paternity claims. The law provides that “The donor of semen provided to a licensed physician and surgeon or to a licensed sperm bank for use in assisted reproduction of a woman other than the donor’s spouse is treated in law as if he were not the natural parent of a child …unless otherwise agreed to in writing signed by the donor and the woman prior to the conception of the child.” This makes sense given the typical set of facts. The law allows both donor and donee to help one another without the fear of paternity or support claims. Since Patric’s semen was provided to a medical facility and the child was conceived through IVF and Patric was not married to the child’s mother, the trial court found he was not the natural parent of the child.
Patric argued that Family Code Section 7613 does not apply and that under Family Code Section 7611, Patric is a parent. Under Family Code Section 7611, a person is presumed to be a natural parent of a child if the person meets certain factors. One factor? A person receiving the child into his or her home and openly holding out the child as his or her own. The trial court rejected this argument citing previous case law and found under Family Code 7613, parentage was not established and such a finding precluded relief under Family Code Section 7611.
On appeal, however, the California Court of appeals has disagreed with the trial court. Family Code Section 7613(b) did not mean one could not establish paternity under Family Code Section 7611. The law does not “preclude [Patric] from establishing that he is a presumed father …based on post –birth conduct.” The Court looked at legislative intent and the need to avoid “a construction that would lead to absurd consequences.”
Now, Patric is back in the lower court to determine if he is legally a parent. Whether Patric will succeed in his claim is yet to be determined.
For others, there is now legal precedent for rights of sperm donors and a change in father’s rights. Both doners and donees should realize their relationships, conduct and actions, may be scrutinized in the future by courts that are asked to examine possible parentage and support obligations.