This New Jersey case has been on my mind for the last couple of days. I’m a little worried about my understanding of New Jersey law (and I’m hoping someone can check me on it) but it seems to highlight some of the odd ways the law can work.
Sheena and Tiara Yates are a lesbian couple who live in Pennsville, New Jersey. They have two children. Both were conceived using sperm from men (two different men) who were meant to be donors. As I understand the story, both men signed contracts that purported to give up any parental rights. Yet each man changed his mind and each sued for recognition as a legal parent and the right to spend time with the child conceived with his sperm. (Once you gain recognition as a legal parent, it’s far easier to claim an entitlement to time with the child.) One man won his case and the other has yet to be decided. Continue reading
I know I’ve been silent for quite a while. Bit of a break. But there’s a new opinion that has brought me back to the keyboard. It’s from the Supreme Court of New Hampshire and is yet one more case of the breakup of a lesbian family. (Sadly you’ll find a number of those on the blog. Because the legal status of lesbian co-parents can be unclear there is often the opportunity for litigation if things get messy.)
For the purposes of its decision the court took the facts as stated by the petitioner, Susan B. I will do the same.
Susan and Melissa D met in 1997. They held a commitment ceremony (no legal marriage that time) in 1998. They wanted to have a family and bought a house together. Melissa gave birth to Madeline in 2002. She was conceived using sperm from an anonymous donor who shared Susan’s Irish heritage.
Many details seem to confirm Susan’s status as a parent (and here I mean social status):
Susan and Melissa decided to give Madelyn Susan’s middle and last names.
Susan and Melissa were both named as Madelyn’s parents in the birth announcements sent to friends and family and printed in the local newspaper, as well as in a “dedication ceremony” held in the Unitarian Universalist Church when Madelyn was a year old. Susan was listed as Madelyn’s parent in her preschool documents and in her medical records. Susan was involved in the daily care of Madelyn, and Susan and Melissa jointly made all decisions involved in raising Madelyn, including decisions regarding health care, education, and religion.
A few months ago I wrote about Thomas Lippert. Lippert worked for a fertility clinic in Utah in the early 1990s and apparently substituted his own sperm for that of intended genetic fathers on at least one occasion. This came to light recently as genetic testing revealed that a 21-year-old was the genetic child of Lippert and not, as was thought, her social/psychological (and legal) father.
Because this happened quite a while back and because the clinic closed in 1997, details of exactly how this happened are scarce. It is, however, clear that Lippert was anything but a model citizen. (He died in 1999.)
Once the story came to light, the University of Utah (the clinic had some affiliation there) did an investigation. And now that is complete. So the next chapter in this story is the University’s response. While it is interesting, it is not entirely satisfactory. Continue reading
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. Continue reading
As you may have read elsewhere, the appellate court in California has ruled on the parentage case brought by Jason Patric. (You can get to the opinion from this page if you look under opinions issued on May 14.). The papers paint this as a victory for Patric, which is correct, but they also (at least the headlines I’ve seen) get the details wrong.
I’ve written about this case before and it’s certainly gotten it’s share of media coverage. I won’t recite the facts (which are sharply contested) in any detail, but it’s interesting and important to read the facts as recited by the court. Critically, Patric provided sperm for the insemination of Danielle Schreiber. The pregnancy resulted from insemination. And after the birth of the child (Gabe) Patric developed a social/psychological relationship with Gus. (This very barebones version of the facts may actually be consistent with both sides’ versions.)
So the court said several important things. First, the fact that Patric provided the sperm doesn’t make him a parent. It also doesn’t give him the right to establish any particular relationship with the child. (That’s footnote 10 and is a point that Patric conceded.).
Second, the fact that Patric provided sperm doesn’t preclude him from using California law that would be available to anyone else Continue reading
Many of you will know that there is a case from Kansas that I have been following for some time. Before I get to the newest twist, I’ll do a quick summary. For more details follow the link to earlier posts.
Angela Bauer and Jennifer Schreiner were a lesbian couple seeking to have a child. They found William Marotta via a Craig’s List ad. He agreed to provide sperm and, in a written contract, agreed that he would be a donor only and not a legal father.
The problem is that in Kansas that contract does not have legal effect. What would have accomplished the purpose was if the sperm had been provided to a doctor rather than directly to the women. An agreement–even a clear written agreement–simply doesn’t do it under KS law.
Now as it happens all of the individuals involved (Marotta and the two women) honored the agreement. The child was raised by the two women and had no contact with Marotta. But then the one woman who was a legal mother needed financial support from the state and the state, looking to recoup its costs, determined that Marotta was a legal parent and hence owed support. It commenced suit against him. Continue reading
A couple of days ago I blogged about the contested parentage case involving Jason Patric. There’s been a bunch of discussion there and as I was reading through it I thought of an interesting variation on the problem.
To be clear, this has absolutely no basis in fact, as far as I know. But since (as I pointed out before) we really don’t know the facts that seems fine to me. Instead, a variation like this (what law professors generally call “hypothetical”) allows you to test you thinking about legal rules. It allows you to see which facts would matter to you–and that in turn can lead to questions about why those facts matter.
With all that in mind, here’s the imaginative exercise. Suppose they facts are as we know them–which is to say that there is disagreement between the parties about what exactly the plan was, but somehow the plan went forward. Further, suppose that (as is the case) after the birth of the child the man played some role in his life. (We can talk about what role if you like–but in the real case that’s a part of the contested facts, so I won’t lay it out here). But now suppose that just before heading into court we learn that, through some terrible error, the sperm used to create the child was NOT Jason Patric’s. Continue reading