Waldlaw Blog

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Three Parents in Pennsylvania

A Pennsylvania appellate court ruled on April 30 that two children born to a lesbian couple there have legal relationships with -- and an ensuing right to financial support from -- three parents: their biological mother, her ex-partner with whom she was living when she conceived them (and with whom she'd entered into a Vermont civil union), and the known sperm donor that they call "papa." In this somewhat unusual case, the bio mom had adopted her nephews, then she and her partner had two more kids together using a friend as a sperm donor. The insemination was accomplished at home, with the donor providing the sperm directly to the women. The man had regular contact with the children, and contributed voluntarily and sporadically to their support, but resisted being held legally liable for child support. After the women broke up, they ended up living in different counties. Each went to court in her own county over issues of support and visitation; one county court found that the donor should share child support obligations with the non-biological mother, while the other county court found that he was simply a sperm donor and not a parent and therefore had no duty to support the children. The appellate court resolved this controversy on April 30, holding that the donor had a substantial, parental relationship with the children such that he should share in their financial support. Ironically, the donor died unexpectedly in March, so he did not survive to hear this ruling. However, because of the appellate court decision the two children should be eligible for Social Security death benefits as his off-spring; something they would not have been had the court ruled the other way. I have a law review article coming out in June in which I express my view that it is time for courts to recognize that many children walking among us have more than two parents -- whether through bonded stepparent relationships, or through assisted reproduction involving known egg donors, sperm donors, and/or surrogates. Prior to this Pennsylvania case, the only published case where a court found 3 parents was out of Ontario, Canada. It is very encouraging to have a state like Pennsylvania -- not generally known for its "cutting edge" approach to family issues -- rendering such a foresightful and sensible ruling.


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