On October 23, the new documentary “Donor Unknown” will air on PBS. The film chronicles 20 year-old JoEllen Marsh’s attempts to locate her siblings. Although Ms. Marsh’s mother was impregnated with the sperm of an anonymous sperm donor, she managed to use technology to discover a sister (a Long Island resident) and five additional siblings.
When the recipient is artificially inseminated, she does not learn the donor’s name but she does receive information on the donor including where he donated the sperm, some physical traits and possibly a number assigned to the donor from the donation facility. In the case of Ms. Marsh, her father was Donor 150 from California Cryobank. By adding her biological father’s information into the Donor Sibling Registry website, Ms. Marsh found several of siblings and after a New York Times article, their father’s identity was eventually revealed (by his own volition).
But what happens if a woman, who was artificially inseminated by the sperm of an anonymous sperm donation, determines the identity of the father and then petitions the court for child support from the father? The answer is that in New York, we do not yet have a conclusive answer. In, P.D. v. S.K., one of the very few cases on the topic of support from sperm donors, the Nassau County Family Court required a sperm-donor father to pay child support despite “numerous promises that he would have no rights or benefits in raising the child, nor any financial responsibilities.” It was especially important in this case, that father and mother, who had known each other prior to the donation, had agreed to the father’s sperm donation and that the father was active in the child’s life. Specifically, he was listed on the child’s birth certificate and sent the child birthday cards which he signed as “Dad” or “Daddy.” Under the doctrine of equitable estoppel, the court ruled that because the father had held himself out to be the child’s father, he is prevented from disputing paternity for purposes of child support. Clearly this case holds that father may be liable for child support even though the child was not conceived though “traditional” means but what does it say about an anonymous donor? The father in P.D. v. S.K., by voluntarily participating in the child’s life, took on an entirely different persona in the child’s life than that of an anonymous sperm donor. At this point, there is no law regarding child support for a child conceived from a truly anonymous sperm donation but perhaps it is an issue that will be eventually litigated.