The “Craigslist Sperm Donor” and the Potential Impact on Missouri

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The state of Kansas is attempting to force a man who donated sperm to a lesbian couple to pay child support.  This case gained national attention in December 2012 and was quickly dubbed the “Craigslist Sperm Donor” case.

William Marotta, a 46-year-old resident of Topeka, Kansas, met the couple after he answered a Craigslist ad in 2009.  Marotta entered into an arrangement with the couple where he signed an agreement relinquishing any parental rights or responsibilities to a potential child born of sperm he donated.  The couple offered to pay Marrotta for his sperm donation, but he declined to accept the offer of payment.  The couple did not use a doctor during the insemination.

Eventually, the women separated.  Later the child’s biological mother applied for Medicaid.  The mother gave a caseworker Marotta’s information as he was the child’s biological father, and the Kansas Department for Children and Families is now seeking to have Marotta named the father of the child, and thus liable for child support.  The child is currently three years old and has never had a relationship with Marotta.

An argument in favor of holding Marotta financially responsible is to shield the taxpayers from having to support the child of his sperm donation.  Medicaid and other taxpayer funded benefits, e.g., food stamps, may be accessed for the benefit of children so conceived.  Another consideration is whether the other party to the agreement, i.e., the non-biological mother, should be held financially responsible for the child born by the agreement to which she was a party.  Who of the three parties to the agreement should be considered by the court for the rights attendant to parentage?

The State’s Position:

The state of Kansas is arguing that the agreement between Marotta and the couple was invalid because they failed to go through a doctor.  If this agreement is held to be invalid, then Marotta can be determined to be the biological as well as the legal father of the child.  See Paternity Post.  Under Kansas law, a doctor’s involvement in this process shields a man from being held responsible for a child conceived through artificial insemination.  Missouri, as well as several other states, has a similar law on the books.  The state is attempting to hold Marotta responsible for payments that the child’s biological mother received for public assistance as well as for future child support.

Is Marotta the child’s legal father?

Marotta is claiming that he is not the child’s legal father because of the agreement that he signed at the time of the sperm donation.  Should he be held to be the legal father of a child due to a technicality?

The intent behind the law is to ensure that couples seeking reproductive technologies such as artificial insemination go to a doctor.  This law is attempting to ‘force’ a person seeking to have a child to go about the process in the safest and cleanest way possible.  A donor only gets the benefit of giving the gift of life if the donor and the recipient go through a doctor.  This law also prevents casual partners or boyfriends from escaping parental responsibility, as the doctor will certify that an insemination is an actual sperm donation.

States have taken very different approaches to artificial insemination and paternity.  Marotta argues that several other states have taken the position that a sperm or egg donor is not the parent of a child conceived through artificial insemination regardless of whether or not a doctor was used in the process.  However, Missouri’s law is similar to that of Kansas.

Impact on Missouri:

Missouri’s statute reads, in part, that the “donor of semen provided to a licensed physician for use in artificial insemination of a married woman, other than the donor’s wife, is treated in law as if he were not the natural father of a child thereby conceived.” RSMo Section 210.824.2.

If the Kansas court decides to hold that Marotta is the legal father of the child, it could potentially impact Missouri.  A person in a case in Missouri wanting to make a similar argument regarding sperm donors could point to the Kansas case in an attempt to persuade the court.  Because the Kansas law and Missouri law are similar, the decision in Marotta’s case has a greater chance of being persuasive to a court in Missouri.  However, a decision in Kansas would not be binding on Missouri.  Therefore, a judge in Missouri could potentially take the opposite stance as Kansas despite the similar nature of the two states’ laws.

The Topeka Capital-Journal reported that Marotta’s attorney recently filed a motion asking the Judge to disqualify herself from the case.  No reason was given for the request, and a change of judge is a common occurrence, especially in a high profile case such as this.  The family law community is eagerly awaiting the trial.

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