Known sperm donors may or may not have parental rights and obligations, depending on the legal steps taken up to the signing of the sperm donor contract. When a known sperm donor is used for conception, it is important that each party consults their own attorney to draft an agreement that defines the rights of everyone involved in relation to the future child.

The legal standing of the known donor may often depend on how the child was conceived. It is strongly advised that insemination take place in a medical facility rather than at home. If any legal issues arise, having a doctor as a witness, rather than approaching the court with a claim that involves at-home insemination, will hold more credence than anything else.

State laws vary on sperm donors and parental rights. Usually, if a child is conceived through artificial insemination, and the donor is not the mother’s husband, then he will not have parental rights or obligations with the child.

In general, many state laws say that if it was done through artificial insemination then there is an automatic presumption that the donor gives up his parental rights. Only in the event that there a previously made agreement that the donor would retain parental rights, would a donor be considered to be a legal and biological father.

If the child was conceived through intercourse, the donor will likely be considered a parent to the child and will be afforded parental rights, as well as being held responsible for paying child support.

To reiterate the importance of legalities, it is highly recommended that the sperm donor, as well as the recipient obtain legal representation prior to insemination. Additionally, sperm donation and insemination should take place in a medical facility.

Are There Any Exceptions?

Yes, there are exceptions. States vary widely on their laws concerning sperm donation and legal parentage. In Pennsylvania, genetics determines legal parentage. This means that if a DNA test shows that the known donor is the father, then he will be considered the legal father—even if his name is not on the birth certificate.

In most states, such as New York, the best interest of the child is considered before allowing a genetic parent to surrender their parental rights and obligations. If the parental rights are to be surrendered to the mother’s spouse or partner, courts will likely allow that surrender.

However, if the mother is a single parent and no one else is assuming the surrendered parental rights, then the known donor cannot surrender those rights. This means that the known donor may be able to sue for custody and visitation rights, and the mother can sue for child support.

But What if I Have a Clearly Written Contract That Relinquishes All of My Rights?

Even if you have a written contract that attempts to relinquish your parental rights, a court may enforce full parental obligations upon you. It is the job of the court to uphold state law, as well as consider what is in the best interest of the child.

This is not to say that you should not have a written contract, because you should have a detailed contract outlining parental intentions. Consult an attorney before doing anything in the direction of becoming a known sperm donor.

What If I Want to Be a Father?

If you want to be considered the legal father of the child, parentage may be established in the following ways, and of course, this will depend on state law:

  • Being named on the child’s birth certificate;
  • Known donor is part of the child’s life, and presents himself as the child’s father; and
  • Written contract between the mother and donor that states the donor is to be a parent. Though written contracts usually cannot relinquish rights, they may be used to establish parental rights.

These guidelines are not concrete. Each state and each case will vary in terms of known sperm donors and their parental rights and obligations.

State Laws Concerning a Known Sperm Donor’s Rights

Situations involving a known sperm donor’s parental rights are much more complex than situations involving an anonymous donor. For instance, in New York, courts will not enforce any contract between a sperm donor and the recipient in relation to parental rights.

However, creating a sperm donor agreement prior to using medical insemination may help to establish the parties’ intent. Absent an agreement, the best interest of the child standard is used for custody issues.

In California, any person who provides sperm that is used for assisted reproduction is considered a sperm donor, and is not a parent. If the donor intends to be a parent to the child conceived, then a written agreement with the birth parent must be signed before conception. As mentioned, states vary widely on assisted reproduction laws, and an experienced attorney can provide further guidance.

What If I Go Through a Sperm Bank and It’s an Anonymous Donation?

For donors who go through a sperm bank, the donor’s parental rights and obligations are waived, and the clinic will keep their identity anonymous. However, many of these sperm banks will make the donor’s identity available to the child once he or she turns age 18 or 21.

Do I Need to Consult a Lawyer About Sperm Donation?

If you are considering becoming a sperm donor, it is a good idea to consult a local family lawyer before making a final decision. The law is complex in this area, and an experienced lawyer can help prevent any missteps and legal issues that are common with sperm donation. Your lawyer will advise you of your rights, and ensure that your best interests are protected.