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When can a sperm donor be on the hook for child support?

An interesting story has been in the news lately of a sperm donor involved in a child support battle -- not with his child's mother but with child support enforcement authorities for the State of Kansas. Generally, sperm donors do not have parental rights or responsibilities, but artificial insemination is regulated in Kansas. This case arises because the people involved in the artificial insemination apparently didn't strictly follow state law, and also in part because Kansas doesn't recognize same-sex unions.

The story began in 2009, when a man answered an online ad posted by a lesbian couple seeking a sperm donor. He says he didn't know the couple but decided to help them out, thinking he was doing a good deed. The insemination was accomplished non-sexually, and the donor and the couple signed an agreement that he would have no paternity rights and owe no child support.

Unfortunately for this donor, Kansas law requires that they be handled through a doctor's office or fertility clinic, and part of what is required is for a doctor to sign an affirmation that the recipient of any sperm donation was a fit parent. The lesbian couple had tried to obtain the doctor's approval, but they were turned down. Therefore, they had no chance to participate in the state-mandated system. A girl, now three, was born to the couple, who had been together for eight years and had other children through adoption.

Then the couple broke up, and one of the women was unable to work due to illness. The other woman, who was the birth mother, applied for state health benefits for the little girl, and on her application she listed question marks where the application called for the father's name. In the space on the application asking, "Who do you think is the father and why," she put down, "no idea - sperm donor."

The Kansas Department for Children and Families followed up and was given a copy of the contract the couple had signed with the sperm donor, although on one copy blanks were left empty where the donor's name and signature would be. However, with the donor's name in hand, DCF filed a petition seeking nearly $6,000 in back child support payments, and seeking to put in place future child support obligations for the man.

DCF's position is that the sperm donation contract is invalid because Kansas law requires insemination to be handled by a doctor or clinic. It also claims that the birth mother lied on her application for benefits, and that the unsigned copy of the contract may indicate an attempt at an intentional misrepresentation. "[A} person cannot contract away his or her obligations to support their child," the DCF petition reads in part.

Through their attorney, the women deny knowing that performing the insemination at home could be put their donor in the position of having parental rights or responsibilities.

What do you think should happen? The very concept of sperm donation is that the donor is not legally the father. Does Kansas have the right to limit that concept? If so, does the fact that the women, at least, may have known that a doctor was required mean that the donor should be required to pay child support?

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