The law often struggles to keep up with advances in technology. One of the confusing situations that technology has inspired is the need for courts to grapple with family law issues concerning advances in conception methods. An issue that courts are currently confronting is whether a sperm donor may be held liable for paying child support for children of whom he is the biological father. Most often, a sperm donor is not responsible for such payments, but some courts are making exceptions to this general rule in certain circumstances.
For most sperm donors, child support is not an issue because they donate to a sperm bank and remain anonymous. They have no interaction with the mother or child. Some states have even gone so far as to pass a version of the Uniform Parentage Act (UPA), which clarifies that a donor providing sperm for someone other than his wife via a licensed physician or donation facility has no legal obligation to support any offspring that result from a woman using the sperm to become impregnated.
Only about one third of the states in the U.S. have passed a version of the UPA, and in states without such laws, matters can become complicated, especially when the donor and the recipient know each other. Courts most often grant support awards to mothers who become pregnant by a sperm donor and the donor subsequently establishes some kind of parent-child relationship with the child.
In 2007, a Pennsylvania court ordered a man who had provided sperm to a lesbian couple so they could have children to pay child support. The court reasoned that the man had taken a great interest in the children’s lives, spending thousands of dollars on the children over several years; the children called him “Papa.” Similarly, in 2008 a court in New Mexico granted a woman a child support award from the biological father of her two children and was a close friend of hers who had agreed to donate sperm to her. In this case, the father took an active part in the children’s lives, watching the children several mornings a week, and the children knew him as their father.
Courts seem to agree that when men cross the line from anonymous donor to the role of father figure to the children, it is at that point that they open themselves up for child support liability – but they then also may be able to pursue a court order granting visitation rights.
Pursuing a child support award can be complicated process, no matter what the relationship of the parties involved. If you have questions about receiving child support payments or modifying an existing order, do not hesitate to contact an experienced lawyer who can discuss your situation with you and advise you of your options.