Sperm donor Jason Patric, right, places his hand on the shoulder of Daniel Carillho of Brazil who, like Patric was a sperm donor and is now fighting for the right to have a relationship with his biological child. Both men testified before the Assembly Committee on Judiciary at the state Capitol on Tuesday, August 13, 2013 (Randy Pench / Sacramento Bee / ZUMAPRESS.com)
Sperm donors in California can sue to establish parental rights to their biological children under a landmark appeals court decision.
The California Second District Court of Appeal found that donors who can show that they formally recognize their biological child as their own are no longer prohibited from fighting for paternity rights under California law.
The case, which involved a highly publicized custody battle between “The Lost Boys” actor Jason Patric and his ex-girlfriend, could have implications beyond California, since most states have similar laws, said Patric’s attorney, Fred Silberberg, a solo practitioner in Beverly Hills. He said the decision would affect unmarried couples, both heterosexual and homosexual, who become pregnant through in-vitro fertilization.
“It would affect anybody who’s in an unmarried situation needing to use fertility to have a child,” Silberberg said. “Up until this time in California, it was believed a man who provided semen in this manner was precluded from establishing parentage. It relates to a time before it was in vogue to have a child out of wedlock and before IVF treatments. It was never really amended to address the current situation.”
Wednesday’s ruling represented a win for Patric, who testified before the California Legislature last year in support of a bill that would have amended the law.
Patricia Glaser, head of the litigation department at Los Angeles-based Glaser Weil Fink Howard Avchen & Shapiro, who represents Patric’s ex-girlfriend, Danielle Schreiber, did not return a call for comment.
Patric sought paternity rights in 2012 for his son, Gus, now 4 years old. The couple lived together for many years and even tried to get pregnant. After they broke up, Patric donated his sperm to Schreiber, who got pregnant through in-vitro fertilization.
Schreiber argued that Patric was a sperm donor under California law and therefore not eligible to be declared the child’s legal father. Patric submitted evidence that Gus called him “Dada” and that he communicated with his son via Skype while working in New York.
Following trial, a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge granted Schreiber’s motion for nonsuit, citing the Second District’s 2005 decision in Steven S. v. Deborah D., holding against the sperm donor in a similar case. Both courts relied on Family Code 7613, which says: “The donor of semen provided to a licensed physician and surgeon or to a licensed sperm bank for use in assisted reproduction of a woman other than the donor’s spouse is treated in law as if he were not the natural parent of a child thereby conceived.”
But Patric cited another statute, Family Code 7611, which outlines multiple legal definitions of a “natural parent,” including someone who “receives the child into his or her home and openly holds out the child as his or her natural child.” The appeals court found that Patric could pursue parental rights under that statute, despite being a sperm donor.
“Thus, a sperm donor who has established a familial relationship with the child, and has demonstrated a commitment to the child and the child’s welfare, can be found to be a presumed parent even though he could not establish paternity based upon his biological connection to the child,” Justice Thomas Willhite wrote.
Contact Amanda Bronstad at email@example.com.