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Father Or Sperm Donor? Kansas Case Says Distinction Comes From A Doctor

Jan 3, 2013
Originally published on January 3, 2013 4:10 pm
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In 2009, a Topeka, Kansas man named William Marotta answered an ad on Craigslist. A lesbian couple, Angela Bauer and Jennifer Schreiner, wanted to have a child and needed a sperm donor. Marotta, who was a mechanic and married with no children, waived a $50 fee and signed an agreement with the women, relinquishing the rights and responsibilities of a parent.

Three years later, Schreiner, the baby's biological mother, had fallen on hard times and sought state assistance, including medical treatment for the toddler conceived with William Marotta's sperm. The Kansas Department for Children and Families pressed her for the name of the biological father. She identified Marotta. And now the question is: Is he responsible for child support?

Well, Tim Hrnechir has been covering this story for the Topeka Capitol-Journal and joins us now. Welcome to the program.


SIEGEL: And first, sperm donors aren't exactly novel. What was it about this arrangement that lead the state to ignore that agreement that Mr. Marotta signed with the two women?

HRENCHIR: State law in Kansas says a man is considered a sperm donor if he makes a sperm donation and the artificial insemination is carried out by a physician. In this case, though, the insemination was not carried out by a physician and that's what the state of Kansas says is different here and why Mr. Marotta is a father and not a sperm donor.

SIEGEL: And what's the reasoning, apart from preferring to have a doctor do it than not. I mean, what does the doctor achieve in that case, according to the theory of the law.

HRENCHIR: When a doctor's involved, the state's able to talk to the doctor and confirm that this is a legitimate sperm donor and not, for example, a boyfriend who's posing as a sperm donor, but should actually be required to help support the child.

SIEGEL: Now, from what I read in your story, in this case, the women, Bauer and Schreiner, had been together for eight years and had adopted some children, had foster children before they tried artificial insemination. Since then, I gather, they've broken up.

HRENCHIR: Yes. They broke up in late 2010.

SIEGEL: But it doesn't seem to be in dispute that they had a real relationship together and that they raised, still, I guess a total of eight kids together.

HRENCHIR: Yes. They continue to co-parent those kids, even at this point.

SIEGEL: So in this case, the state would regard Angela Bauer, the woman who was not the biological parent, she's irrelevant, as far as the state's concerned to this child's case.

HRENCHIR: Right. She's considered a nonentity. She says she's willing to provide support for the child, but, A, she's not been working since early last year because of a medical problem and, B, the state of Kansas doesn't recognize same-sex marriages, so it lacks the authority to require her to pay child support.

SIEGEL: And Marotta, since the baby was born, did - was he a part of the family? Was he - did he take part, did he contribute money toward the upkeep of the child?

HRENCHIR: No. He contributed no money or anything like that. The only involvement that he had was passive. They sent him occasional emails with updates on the development of the child.

SIEGEL: So where does he stand right now, the notion of the state agency says he should be responsible for a child who they claim is his child?

HRENCHIR: Well, right now, the state's trying to have him declared the father of the child. If he is declared the father of the child, then they'll be able to collect child support from him. He is opposing that. A motion to dismiss the case will be heard next Tuesday in Shawnee County District Court.

SIEGEL: But what's at issue in determining whether he's the father of the child? Is it simply the DNA paternity test, which we think we know what the answer will be, or does it take into account the agreement that he signed with the women in which they all agreed that he would have no responsibility toward the child?

HRENCHIR: That's one of the things that the court will need to determine that I can't tell you an answer for sure. In 2007, we had a case involved where a guy who had been a sperm donor donated sperm for a woman to become pregnant and then decided afterwards that he wanted to be considered the father, wanted to have parental rights and responsibilities. That case went clear to the Kansas Supreme Court and they said that he doesn't get the parental rights and responsibilities.

He is a sperm donor because he donated for the reasons of being a sperm donor and it was carried out by a medical physician. So the state's saying that under that ruling, Marotta is a parent instead of a sperm donor because he didn't donate using a doctor. Marotta's attorney says, well, guess what? Marotta did exactly what the guy in the other case did. The only thing was, the mother took it to a doctor and in this case, they didn't.

SIEGEL: Tim Hrenchir, thank you very much for talking with us.

HRENCHIR: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.