Waldlaw Blog

Friday, February 27, 2009

The Octo-Mom's Donor -- Donor or Father?

I have a general policy that once I've been asked the same question 3 times in one week, it's time to blog about it. I guess that means that I now have to blog about the "octo-mom." Let me start by saying that I have no more information about this case than what I've gleaned from news reports and from reading the headlines of the tabloids while waiting in line to pay for my groceries. I honestly never expected to be asked for my opinion on this situation. But then, a little over a week ago, my phone rang. It was ABC News in New York, calling to discuss the status of the man whose sperm was used to conceive the octuplets. And then, over the weekend, a colleague who doesn't do assisted reproduction work asked the same question. And then a dinner guest did. Time to blog.... Here is my analysis re: the genetic father of the octuplets: If he provided his sperm to a physician, and not to "octo-mom" herself, and if he did so with the intent to conceive children with someone other than his wife, he is legally a sperm donor and not a father. As such, he has no legal rights and no legal responsibilities for the children. This would change if he provided the sperm directly to "octo-mom," instead of to a physician. It would change if he married or attempted to marry "octo-mom" before the children were born. It might change if he and "octo-mom" had a written agreement by which they clearly stated their intent that he be a father to the children, despite a physician's involvement in the conception. Otherwise, it is my professional opinion that genetic dad is simply a sperm donor, shielded by the law from any financial responsibility for these kids. And here is my worst fear about this case, from a legal perspective: bad cases make for bad laws. I fear that the public's horror about this situation will cause our courts and/or our legislature to decide that it is bad public policy to have a clear category of "sperm donors" who have no legal responsibility for their genetic offspring. I fear that this one very public abuse of the system established to address the legal rights and responsibilities of people using assisted reproduction will lead to a response that hurts everyone who is responsibly involved in assisted procreation. I hope that this fear turns out to be unfounded.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

"Fun and Easy" Stepparent Adoptions

Diane Michelsen and I recently wrote an article for the Academy of California Adoption Lawyers (ACAL) -- of which we both are members -- to go in the materials for ACAL's Advanced Adoption Law Seminar that took place a few weeks ago in Southern California. In order to allow attorneys to get Continuing Legal Education credits for reading the article, we had to design a quiz on it -- so we came up with about 20 true/false questions addressing the substance of the article. One of them has become a running joke between us. The question was "Stepparent adoptions are fun and easy: true or false?" Many people who don't do stepparent adoptions would tend to answer "true" to that statement. I, myself, would have guessed it was true (at least as to the "easy" part, if not the "fun" part) until quite recently. After all, many -- if not most -- couples do their own stepparent adoptions without the assistance of an attorney. And in the adoption world, stepparent adoptions tend to be treated as "adoption lite." Well, I have come to learn -- the hard way -- that stepparent adoptions (at least the ones I see in my law practice) tend to be the hardest adoptions in my case load. Typically, before every stepparent adoption there has been a child born to a man and woman who have been unable to make it together as a family. One of them has raised the child while the other has generally become distant -- either by choice or by necessity -- and has ended up without a meaningful relationship with the child. The one raising the child has subsequently married, and his/her spouse has ended up filling the role of parent in the child's life. Now they are seeking to formalize that role. In order to complete these stepparent adoptions, the original absent parent must be contacted and his/her consent sought, or an abandonment proceeding brought against him/her. This often involves contacting someone out of the blue and reminding them of a chapter of their lives that is generally painful and often emotionally unresolved. The call to say "remember that child you had 10 years ago, that you haven't seen in 8 years? Well, now someone else wants to adopt that child and become that child's parent instead of you, and we need you to consent so we can have your legal rights terminated" is never a "fun" or "easy" call to make, as it catches people off-guard and tends to open old wounds, reminding them of shattered hopes and of dreams they once had. I have yet to have a stepparent adoption not work out, one way or the other. In the ones I have done -- and there have been quite a few -- the missing parent has never yet chosen to fight the adoption. Most have consented, understanding that it is what is best for the child. Some have simply chosen not to fight, by failing to appear in court for mandatory hearings. But all that I have spoken with -- and I make it a point to personally speak with them, to show respect and to try to cushion the blow -- have expressed how sad they are that it has come to this. Not "fun." Not "easy." One of the things I love about my law practice is that I always have more to learn, new challenges to rise to, new legal adventures to embark on. Learning the complexity of stepparent adoptions has been one of those adventures. SO -- stepparent adoptions are fun and easy? The correct quiz answer on that one is definitely: false.

Friday, February 13, 2009

And Now a New Day Comes to ... Utah?!

Late breaking news from Utah: Republican Governor Jon M. Huntsman, Jr. -- a Mormon father of seven who served in the Reagan White House -- is getting a lot of attention this week for having issued a statement supporting lesbian and gay civil unions in his state. The Governor's position is remarkable in light of Utah's history as a state which has declined to offer its lesbian and gay residents even the most basic protections in employment and housing, and where essentially no options are available for lesbian or gay couples raising children together to protect their families. Needless to say, Governor Hunstman's announcement on Monday is being greeted with howls of dismay as well as applause. According to the Salt Lake Tribune, both sides of the argument are mobilizing to let the Governor know how they feel in a variety of ways, including both protests and shows of support at his home and at the Capitol. To gauge the flood of reaction, the Governor's office is tallying phone calls for and against the Governor's newly-articulated position in support of protection and recognition for committed same-sex couples. Folks from Utah certainly let us know what they thought about California's Prop 8, by showing up in droves to lobby our voters; now it is our turn to support progressive Utahans by letting Governor Huntsman know that we support him in providing protection to lesbian and gay families in his state. If you want to call in your vote, the number is 801-538-1000. It just takes a minute, and could help make history.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

A New Day Has Come To ... The Wald Law Group

Yup, it's true. As a new day has come to America, so has a new day come to the Wald Law Group. As of January 2, 2009, Paul Thorndal is now a full partner. And, as of February 2, 2009, Amanda J. List has joined the Wald Law Group! Based in the East Bay, Amanda comes to us from the law office of Robert Goodman, where she had been practising family law for the past three years. She is an experienced divorce and custody attorney, and also has limited experience doing family formation work as a clerk in the Adoption and Assisted Reproduction Law Offices of Diane Michelsen. Her addition to the Wald Law Group will greatly assist us in providing a full range of family law services to all varieties of Bay Area families in need of representation, as has long been our mission. SO -- if you're in downtown San Francisco, stop by and say "congratulations" to Paul and "hello" to Amanda!