Maybe one of my favorite things is when someone says “that sounds like a Liz case!” (or article, or poem, or whatever) because it’s really nice when someone thinks of me and also because they are usually awesome cases.
Last week, two of the attorneys in my office joyously presented me with the following Liz case:
At the beginning of January, the Department of Children and Families in Kansas sought child support payments from William Marotta for the three year old child he fathered through sperm donation. Through a private agreement with Angela Bauer and Jennifer Schreiner, a committed but unmarried couple, Marotta donated his sperm on three separate occasions. On the third attempt, Jennifer became pregnant and Jennifer and Angela raised their daughter as a couple without any involvement from Marotta.
In fact, before donating his sperm to Bauer and Schreiner, Marotta signed a Sperm Donor Contract relinquishing his parental rights to any child conceived through his donation. Though the contract purports to sever Marotta’s rights, it is unsigned by Jennifer, the biological mother, and is neither notarized nor witnessed. Based on these two facts alone, the contract is suspicious, but ultimately served its purpose for three years until the Kansas court stepped in.
You see, in 2010 Bauer and Schreiner separated, but maintained joint parental responsibilities for their child. When Bauer lost her job and was unable to provide health insurance coverage for the child, Schreiner sought health insurance through Medicaid. But before the Kansas Department of Children and Families would approve the application, they requested information about the father of the child and slapped Marotta with a lawsuit for child support payments. Bauer, the non-biological parent of Schreiner’s child attempted to step in and explain that she was the other parent, not Marotta, but the Department of Children and Families and the Kansas court wouldn’t listen.
In fact, the Kansas court is allowing the DCF’s petition for child support payments from Marotta, totaling over $6,000, to go forward. Seems a little wonky, right?
It is. And there’s an explanation for this mess, but it’s a pretty crappy one. Here’s the deal: Kansas expressly prohibits same-sex marriage in its Constitution, so Bauer and Schreiner couldn’t get married. This means that any child born to the couple would not be presumed to be a child of both parties of the couple. (In most states, a child born to a married couple is presumed to be the child of both parties and parental rights are established through this presumption.)
In addition, Kansas has no existing legal avenues for second-parent adoption. Second-parent adoption is a fairly common process allowed in 23 states, whereby the second parent of the child would formally adopt the child with the consent of (or at the same time as) the custodial parent.
So, even though Bauer wanted to provide for and continue to parent the child born to Schreiner, she is kind of unable to under Kansas law. And even though she’s trying to tell the court she’s the other parent… it doesn’t matter, the DCF looks to Marotta for support.
Any state Department of Children and Families, not just Kansas, is going to exhaust all legal possibilities for providing support for a child before issuing any aid. And since Marotta is the biological father of the child and there’s a ton of legal precedent that says you can’t just contract away your parental responsibilities (off the top of my head, see In the Matter of Baby M but there is a plethora of case law to that effect in every state) his Sperm Donor Contract doesn’t work.
Bottom line? Kansas wants to ignore same-sex families and deny them a whole bunch of rights, so the court is unlikely to extend parental rights to a same-sex partner. This means that Marotta will probably be on the hook for child support even though he was never a parent to the child.
What are your thoughts? Should the sperm donor be on the hook for child support payments? Should the Kansas court deem Bauer the second parent? Does this make you think twice about donating sperm or eggs?
- State trying to make sperm donor pay child support (kansascity.com)