Actor's Custody Case May Radically Change Sperm-Donor Practices

The sperm-donor method of enabling single women to bear and raise their own children has been so ingrained into modern society that it barely raises an eyebrow these days. But a case in California may radically change societal assumptions and the rights of sperm donors everywhere.

The parties involved in this case have created even greater than usual interest -- the sperm donor in question is actor Jason Patric.

Patric volunteered as a sperm donor for a former girlfriend in 2009. After the child was born, Patric decided he wanted to be part of his son's life, and began court proceedings seeking partial custody.

The obstacle he faced in this pursuit, however, was codified into California state law. Under that state's statutes, a sperm donor who is not married to the mother and does not enter into a written agreement with the mother before the birth is not recognized as the resulting child's father. Since Patric and his former girlfriend had no such agreement, Patric's petition for custody and visitation rights was denied.

Now, California legislators are considering a recently-introduced bill to change existing laws to make it easier for sperm donors to become active fathers:

A bill by state Sen. Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo) would allow courts to grant parental rights to sperm donors under broader conditions — for example, if a donor showed that he openly acknowledged the child as his own and received the child into his home.
"In circumstances where you have a sperm donor creating a parenting relationship with a child, someone should not be allowed to take that away from the child," said Hill, who has written other parental-rights laws.

Patric's former girlfriend, the child's mother, disagrees with Patric that he has had an ongoing relationship with the child:

"When Jason offered me his sperm, it was under the condition that his donation never be made public and that he would not be a father to the child," she said in a statement to The Times.

And her attorney sees negative implications down the line for other women who have to rely on sperm donation to conceive children:

"What you will have is tremendous litigation," the attorney said. "It will cause women to not allow any contact between the sperm donor and the child. In many cases, when they use a known donor it's because they want the child to be able to have some relationship."

The Patric case is certainly troubling. The vast majority of sperm donors never know the offspring from their donation. Only recently has it developed that sperm donors are getting involved in the lives of their offspring.

In that situation, and certainly Jason Patric's, it just seems the right thing to do to let the father be involved in the child's life.  Research around the world is consistent that a child will do better in the long run when BOTH parents are involved in the child's life.