July 23, 2013
Hollywood star Jason Patric is leading the fight to give sperm donors’ increased parental rights. Perhaps, if he just did it the old-fashioned way he wouldn’t have emerged as the trailblazer of sperm; nor would he be claiming to be the parent he already is in life, but not in law.
Jason Patric is in a heated custody battle with ex-girlfriend Danielle Schreiber over their son Gus, 3, who was technically conceived via sperm donation. In February 2013 Schreiber won the parentage case in Los Angeles Family Court; Patric has appealed. Here’s the "He said, She said": Schreiber asserts the couple agreed that she would raise the child by herself, that Patric did not want to be a father and further, that his biological fatherhood was to be kept secret at Patric's behest. She adds that Patric did not see Gus during much of the year after he was born.
Patric gives a differing account. He says the couple decided to have a child but after the relationship ended, Schreiber took the child away. That he didn’t merely donate sperm; the couple had pursued fertility treatments together and tried for years to have a child.
Patric is now hoping a California state bill he inspired will pass. This bill, SB 115, would permit any sperm donor to sue for parentage but only if he “receives the child into his home AND openly holds out the child as his natural child”. That could give the sperm donor parentage which in turn satisfies the precursor to sue for custody. California, home to the largest sperm bank in the country, is in an uproar at the possibility of thousands of donors now trying to be Daddy Dearest. Hold on gentleman......not so fast.
The "receiving" and "holding out" requirements dictate that the mother facilitate the donor into the child's life. So that scenario is far less likely to occur in the case of the anonymous donor. In the case of the known donor the mother still has a degree of control to allow the donor into the child's life. Also noteworthy is the legal standard Courts look to when deciding a variety of issues relating to children - what is "in the best interests of the child” - that is the threshold. Aside from the "receiving" and "holding out" elements that could possibly enter the family law vernacular in California, the 'best interests of the child' is the prevailing rule in every state.
What remains astounding is the LA Court ruling that Patric did not have the right to sue for custody because he was not a parent under the law, he was viewed as merely a sperm donor. Despite the fact that Schreiber and Patric dated an aggregate of 10 years, that Patric has acted in a manner commensurate to being a parent, or that Baby Gus calls Patric "Dada", Patric is not Gus' father. Is that in the best interests of this child?
Historically Courts favor recognizing both a mother and a father if both parents are healthy, loving and productive people. Courts also look to 'consistency'. For Patric that first year of Gus' life, where he was allegedly absent due to his own volition, gives pause that he will remain a willing, participative fixture in the child's life. However, if Patric and Schreiber conceived Gus au naturale, Schreiber's claim that Patric was akin to an anonymous donor would be far less credible putting her other accusations into question as well.
Through a multitude of complex issues a reluctant leader has arisen. And this is a good thing folks. In California there is finally a chance for biological and non-biological fathers to have equality in access to parental rights. SB 115 sailed through the Senate in April but its harsh criticism has sparked concern it will be passed by the Assembly where a hearing is set for August. So when all eyes are on Sacramento later this summer for a potential new state law with national implications, let’s not forget that little boy in the back. His name is Gus and he is still waiting to hear who is daddy is.
Seema Iyer is an attorney in New York City with her own practice that specializes in Criminal Defense, Civil Rights and Constitutional Law. Seema is also a Legal Contributor at Arise News and frequent guest on MSNBC. Follow her on Twitter @seemaiyeresq