There’s a lot of discussion (some parts of it more relevant than others, some parts of it more temperate than others) about the Jason Patric case–both here and out there in the world. (I do not really mean to suggest that you should read the 152 comments (a number of which are mine) on my post. That’s way over the top, as far as I’m concerned, and it’s part of the reason for starting with a new post.)
Anyway, I’ll remind you a bit about the case and what I think of it, but then move on to some broader observations. Patric provided sperm used to impregnant Schneider. Patric and Schneider had been a couple and had tried to conceive a child via sex. But that hadn’t worked–either the couple part or the conception part. I think it is agreed that by the time they were doing insemination they were not a couple. (If’ I’m wrong, by all means correct me.)
Schneider gave birth to Gus. Patric played some role in Gus’ life. (The details of what role are surely in dispute.) Patric wanted legal recognition as a parent.
The bottom line in the new opinion is that Patric may get what he wants–depending on those disputed details of the relationship between Patric and Gus. If he had a parent-like relationship then he will be recognized as a parent. If not, then not. The fact that he is genetically related to Gus is legally irrelevant. It’s all about conduct.
Now I like that decision just fine–Patric shouldn’t be in a worse position than anyone else because he is genetically related, and that’s where the trial court had essentially put him. And this is mostly the substance of that last post. But the ABC story about the case did make me think more broadly. What’s the take-away more generally? If the case stands (it could be appealed to the CA Supreme Court, which could do something different), then how might it change how people act.
Well, if you were a single woman in CA (or a lesbian couple for that matter), and you had used a sperm donor, you might not want to let him form a social/psychological relationship with your child. After all, if some judge at some point thinks the relationship is parental, then you just acquired a co-parent. But I’m assuming here that you didn’t want a co-parent. (If you did, then all is well.)
This is a characteristic of the functional parent doctrine I’m so fond of. It doesn’t have sharp and clear edges. I think about what I’d say if I were a lawyer giving advice to a client about the nature of the relationship she (or they) should allow: You can have him visit with the child–just not too much? And what is too much?
I don’t mean to make it sound worse than it is. If you see the child four times a year, no one is going to say that’s a parent-like relationship. But of sperm provider and parent are good friends and see each other a lot more than that? And if the child’s relationship with sperm provider slowly develops more depth and texture–as will surely happen sometime? Well, at some point you might cross into the “parent-like” relationship zone.
And if you do then it’s right that the relationship should be recognized and protected. I’ve said many times that children need that–are entitled to that. I won’t back away from it now. But perhaps it will all happen without parent having made a conscious choice? Maybe the real moral here is you should think about what you are doing because you’ll have to live with it.
All of which is to say I’m not alarmed by any of this–and I don’t think I’d take the tone taken in that ABC story. But it is worth noting–relationships can develop and evolve over time and there can be legal consequences. Pay attention?