Sperm Donor Parental Rights/Obligations

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The legal rights of an egg or sperm donor are a very contentious subject, with almost no two courts agreeing on the answer.  Because it is a particularly volatile subject, with the courts constantly changing their decisions, it is very important to consult a lawyer who is familiar and up to date with state laws concerning donor rights.

Does a Known Sperm Donor Have Any Parental Rights/Obligations?

For the most part, no, but there are many important exceptions.   In most states, a true "sperm donor" automatically gives up his rights/obligations as any sort of parent.  Of the states that offer such protections, most of them state quite clearly that if the donor of semen used in an artificial insemination is not the mother's husband, then:  

  1. The donor has no right, obligation or interest with respect to a child born as a result of the artificial insemination; and
  2. The child born as a result of the artificial insemination has no right, obligation or interest with respect to the donor.

The first part of that rule should not be overlooked, however.  The donor must NOT be the mother's husband for this rule to apply, in almost every state that has such a law.  If you ARE the husband, a court may automatically find you are the father, even if the insemination was done after your divorce, or you have a contract relinquishing your rights.

But viewing this as "the rule"  would be a drastic mistake, as many states modify it in certain ways, and some states offer no protections at all.  Pennsylvania, for instance, recently decided a case that forced a sperm donor to pay child support for the child he created, even though the mother was married to someone else at the time of insemination, and he had a contract that was supposed to relieve him of child support obligations. 

This is a key distinction in many states:  you will be considered a "true sperm donor" only if the insemination process is done through a licensed physician.  This means that "informally" donating your sperm directly to another woman or couple will generally NOT protect you from paying child support, nor will it protect the couple from your paternity and visitation rights.

So if you wish to donate sperm and want no obligations to the resulting child, you should always involve a licensed doctor.  Something as simple as giving the sperm sample to the doctor first, and then the doctor giving it to the couple, can mean the difference between you being considered a "donor" and a father.

But I Have a Clearly Written Contract That Relinquishes All of My Rights! 

Don't be so sure!  Many states treat contracts dealing with surrogacy or the relinquishing of parental rights as "against public policy," and render them unenforceable.  Even if you and the mother of the child have a carefully written contract that says you will not have to pay any child support or that you give up all your visitation rights, courts may very well throw out the contract in court, and can force full parental obligations on you.   

The court may, however, look to the contract to determine the parties intentions, so it is still a good idea to have a written contract instead of just an oral agreement.  This is why it is VERY important to both go through a doctor AND consult a lawyer familiar with the laws of your state, before going ahead with sperm donation.

Various State Laws Concerning a Known Sperm Donor's Rights

What if I Go Through A Sperm Bank? (Anonymous Donation)

Truly anonymous sperm donation, generally done through a bank, is allowed in almost every state, and since  your contract will be with the bank itself, (and not with the mother), your anonymity and waiver of rights/obligations will usually be upheld.  But some states do have laws that allow children of anonymous sperm donors to learn the identity of their genetic father when they turn 21, so again, it is important that you contact a lawyer and talk to the bank about your rights before committing to a decision. 

Do I Need to Consult a Lawyer About Sperm Donation?

The decision to create a life to help another couple is a very noble one, but when relationships change, as they often do, the ensuing battle for custody can be among the ugliest and most heart-breaking legal problems you will ever face.  Decisions about your donation that may seem minor at the time can profoundly affect the rest of your life, and the life of your child.  In a field of law as volatile as this one, with the state rules differing drastically, and new court decisions and technologies arriving every day, it is wise to contact a Family Law Lawyer specializing in these sorts of arrangements.

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Last Modified: 05-02-2014 07:10 AM PDT

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