Artificial Insemination and Paternity Rights (Part I)

On behalf of The Marks Law Firm, L.L.C. posted in Artificial Reproductive Technology, Paternity, Child Support on Monday, May 5, 2014

Many of you may know Jason Patric as an actor in a variety of films, or as the grandson of Jackie Gleason.  But Patric finds himself in the most challenging role of his life – the face of fathers’ rights in cases of artificial insemination.

Jason Patric is not an anonymous sperm donor suddenly seeking to assert his rights to parent a child.  Rather, he had been in a relationship with Danielle Schreiber, a massage therapist and member of a wealthy and renowned East Coast family.  During their several years together (on and off dating according to the disputed testimony of the parties), they discussed having a child together, but that fertility issues would require the use of a surrogate.  In 2009, they began treatments and they successfully welcomed a son, Gus.  Patric played a parental role until the couple broke up permanently in June of 2012, at which point Danielle refused to allow Patric any custodial visits.  Patric filed a paternity suit – and this is where the case gets very interesting.

At the outset, we should note that had Danielle become pregnant naturally with Patric’s baby, Patric would without question have a right to claim paternity and at least some custodial time, in addition to a duty of support.  But because the couple used artificial insemination, other laws also come into play and work against the claim of paternity.

The status of parentage in cases of artificial insemination is still an emerging area of the law.  Many states have conflicting statutes that create a great deal of problems, as evidenced by what happened to Patric.

Under California law, absent artificial insemination, Patric would have no problems with establishing paternity – he is the biological father of the child and he has held the child out as his own, even if he and Danielle did not live together as a family unit.  Also under California law, sperm donors in cases of artificial insemination are presumed to have forfeited any paternal rights unless the parties explicitly agree otherwise in writing.  Danielle did not include such a fatherhood provision in the surrogacy agreement – which she claims was an intentional act to keep all custodial rights to herself.  So which statute should control in this case?  The law is not actually clear on this point, at least in cases like this where the parties are not anonymous – an apparently increasing national trend, with women choosing donors based on personal knowledge rather than the anonymity of a sperm bank.

The Patric facts get even more muddled.  Patric has forms from the surrogacy clinic listing him as “intended parent,” and Danielle has testimony that Patric did not want to be named on the birth certificate, which he claims he requested to avoid a media circus.

The family court in California found in favor of Danielle, leaving Patric without any parental rights.  His case will be heard in the appellate court this week.  In the meantime, he has not seen his son in over eighteen months.

How could this problem have been avoided?  What would the law be in Missouri or Illinois?  We will address these questions in our next post.

If you have questions about paternity rights and artificial insemination, contact our St. Louis family law attorneys – we can help.