Against wishes of both parents, Kansas court orders sperm donor to pay child support

January 28, 2014

Family law gavelThis past October, I wrote about a new California law that allowed a child to have more than two legal parents.  The law was an effort to deal with the changing realities of today’s familial arrangements, specifically with regard to the increasing prevalence of households with same-sex parents.

Beyond this abstract motivator was an actual one: a court ruling that sent the daughter of two lesbian parents to foster care instead of to her biological father who, despite being ready and willing to take her, was not able to because he did not have legal parental rights.

The new law is an attempt to update laws that are out-of-date and fail to account for current parenting realities – laws on which the above ruling relied in making its conclusions.

It appears that Kansas has just produced its own ruling based on such outdated laws.

On Wednesday last week, a Kansas district court ruled that a sperm donor – one with no legal parental rights to the child and who has never played a role in the child’s upbringing – must pay child support nonetheless.

The donor, 47 year old William Marotta, responded to a March 2009 Craigslist ad from lesbian couple Jennifer Schreiner and Angela Bauer seeking private sperm donation.  After signing a sperm donor contract that waived his parental rights and responsibilities, Marotta dropped off his semen in a specimen cup at the couples’ residence for three consecutive nights.

The women used the semen at home to successfully inseminate Schreiner.  The child was born in December of 2009.  The women continued to live together until they separated in early December 2010.

Schreiner had been applying for state aid for several years prior to October 3, 2012, when the secretary of the Kansas Department of Children and Families filed a petition to determine paternity.  The state learned of the sperm donor’s identity (after at least a year of trying) after Schreiner’s benefits were terminated for failure to provide the executed sperm donor contract.

After over a year of legal proceedings (including arguments from Schreiner herself arguing against a finding of paternity), the court ruled in favor of the state and adjudicated Marotta as the child’s legal father.

How did this happen when Marotta has had almost no contact with the family since the child’s birth?

Because of a Kansas law that holds that “[t]he donor of semen provided to a licensed physician for use in artificial insemination of a woman other than the donor’s wife is treated in law as if he were not the birth father of a child thereby conceived.”

Kind of confusing, isn’t it, since that provision seems to work in Marotta’s favor, his being “the donor of semen…for use in artificial insemination of a woman other than the donor’s wife.”  However, the Kansas court read that part about “provided to a licensed physician” as being an absolute prerequisite.  Thus, since there was not a doctor involved in the artificial insemination process, Marotta cannot avail himself of the statute’s protection.

However, if we take a step back from this myopic focus on the tiny phrase in this small provision that is a part of a much larger body of Kansas family law, the ruling appears much different.  Namely, what we have here is a judge deciding – against the wishes of both the child’s biological mother and father – that a man who has had virtually no contact with the child should be legally declared as her father, with all of the accompanying rights and responsibilities.

This means that Marotta could move to get parenting time with the child if he so chose, but considering the lack of involvement in the child’s life thus far, it’s unlikely that he would see very much.

So if the child isn’t going to benefit from an additional parental figure in her life, where’s the benefit to the child?

Well, money, at least according to the ruling.  Except that the mother isn’t seeing a cent of any child support being paid by Marotta.  The state’s taking all of it.

So, really, what we have here is a ruling in which the state intrudes into private familial relationships against the wishes of all those involved just so it can squeeze some money out of a private citizen.

“But isn’t the court just following the letter of the law?”, one may ask.  Not really, I would respond.  At least not the full body of applicable Kansas family law.  Specifically, Kansas Statutes § 38-2269 holds that either one of the following are grounds for the termination of parental rights:

  • A parent has made no reasonable efforts to support or communicate with the child after having knowledge of the child’s birth.
  • A parent abandoned or neglected the child after having knowledge of the child’s birth.

There are some other ones that could apply, too, but these should suffice to prove my point: both of these reasons clearly apply to Marotta with respect to this child, and, yet, the court actually took the affirmative step of assigning parenting rights to him where they were likely best terminated.

Marotta has stated his intention to appeal the decision, but the outdated law requiring the involvement of a “licensed physician” may make his chances less favorable.  Still, as discussed above, there is enough legal basis to reverse the district court.

Regardless of how this case turns out, it should serve as a wakeup call to Kansas and other states that have analogous laws on their books (that is, ones that adopted the 1976 Uniform Parentage Act, but not the 2000 version that removed the “licensed physician” language):

Expect similar results in your state unless your laws take today’s familial relationships into account.