Last week, a situation in Kansas made the national news. William Marotta, a sperm donor, has been ordered to pay child support for a child conceived with his donated sperm.
Almost immediately, the media jumped all over this and created sound bytes without really explaining the full context of the situation.
Marotta responded to a Craigslist ad placed by a lesbian couple in 2009. After meeting Angela Bauer and Jennifer Schreiner, he agreed to give them the semen and refused the $50 fee they had offered. They executed a contract between the three of them that they believed would terminate his parental rights and free him from legal responsibility for the child. Schreiner became pregnant after they performed an artificial insemination at home.
Fast forward a few years. Bauer and Schreiner broke up and Schreiner subsequently applied for and received financial assistance from the state of Kansas. As is typical in cases where a single mother applies for assistance, the state asked for identifying information on the biological father, Marotta.
In October of last year, the state began pursuing him for $6,000 in assistance already paid out by the government, as well as insisting that he help pay for medical bills. The state is also advocating for a child support order that he would pay directly to Schreiner.
Marotta has fought the order in court, and a hearing is scheduled in April. Both Bauer and Schreiner support Marotta in his fight.
In Kansas, as in most states, when a mother files for state assistance, the government will attempt to recover money from the biological father. Here, Marotta is clearly the biological father. He claims that because he was merely a sperm donor and they had signed a contract, he is free from responsibility.
There are a few flaws in that reasoning, at least under the law as it applies here.
First, the state of Kansas clearly declares sperm donors to not be parents under the law, freeing them from all financial responsibility and refusing them parental rights, so long as the insemination is performed by a physician. There are about 10 states with similar laws, and the primary reason for the requirement of a physician is that they can submit a sworn affidavit about the people involved. Inseminations done at home rely on the "word" of the people involved as to who's sperm is involved.
It is easier and cheaper to do it at home with a willing donor, however, and kits are available online for as little as $30. When compared to thousands of dollars for an in-office procedure, which is usually not covered by insurance, for many couples it's a no-brainer. It can present problems in situations like this, however. Marotta's attorney has argued that the state's law is outdated, as most states have adopted the current uniform code, which suggests that any insemination makes the sperm donor free of obligation. Outdated or not, Kansas has not adopted that rule of law and those living in the state are bound by it.
Second, Kansas does not recognize rights of same sex couples. Bauer never formally adopted the child as hers. Kansas is one of the states with a strict interpretation of marriage as only between a man and a woman. The relationship of the lesbian couple was not legally recognized by the state, and they were not and are not recognized as co-parents under the law. Schreiner is the mother, Bauer - at least legally, is nothing.
While I don't agree with this law in Kansas, it is currently the law there. People who live in any state are bound by the laws of that land, and here the parties were bound by this.
Third, it is in the state's best interest, as well as the interests of the taxpayers to hold biological parents financially responsible for the cost of raising children. Since Kansas does not recognize Bauer in any function as a former partner or parent, she is off the hook financially. Marotta, however is not, even though he wasn't the intended parent and Bauer was.
Fourth, the reason for many of these laws, whether anyone agrees with them or not, is generally said to be for the best interests of the child. Family law is a complicated field, and often the laws and their presumptions don't make sense on their face, but when you dig deeper to the reasoning, they do. For instance, in most states, a child conceived during marriage is automatically presumed to be the child of the husband. This can only be challenged in a narrow set of circumstances. While it clearly seems unfair, it is done to ensure that the child has at least two parents who are legally obligated to provide support to them. The fairness to the child trumps that of the adult.
In this case, it will be interesting to see what the court does. I'm sure this is one of those cases that will be appealed, regardless of which way the decision goes. I honestly can say that I think Marotta is on the losing side here, and that he will be found to be obligated for support.
The choice to conceive a child is one that by definition carries a lot of responsibility. In a situation like this one, choosing to forgo the legally accepted way to decline parenthood may end up costing Marotta a lot of money. Just because other states treat the situation differently is irrelevant, and ignorance of the law is never considered a defense.
The best hope for Marotta is that a court will rule that the intent of the parties is more important than the strict interpretation of the law.
In this case, though, unlike prior cases involving sperm donors, he isn't seeking rights or visitation, he is disclaiming them. He wants nothing to do with this child, and the court doesn't usually free people of obligations when there isn't someone else to hold them against. Here, there is no other parent in the eyes of the law.
The moral of the story here is to make sure you're following the law before you conceive a child you don't want to be responsible for.
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