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There are two words a sperm donor does not expect to hear: "Hi, Dad."
But that's about what a California appeals court said while interpreting the Family Code in County of Orange v. Brian Jeffrey Cole. The appellate panel said Brian Jeffrey Cole could not escape child support because he acted like he was the father -- except around his wife who knew nothing about his relationship with the child's mother.
"The statute does not require that Cole hold out the child as his own in every situation and it does not protect fathers who lead double lives," the court said.
Cole had a sexual relationship with Mie Lynn Tsuchimoto. They were not married but talked about raising a child together. Cole, who had a vasectomy, had his sperm extracted so that she could conceive through in vitro fertilization.
He was present at the child's birth, selected his name and told Tsuchimoto's family and friends that he was the father. He spent nights on-and-off with Tsuchimoto and their child.
In the meantime, Cole was living across town with his wife and their two children. He didn't tell them about his other family.
When Tsuchimoto's boy was about two years old, Cole cut off his relationship with them. He also refused to be financially responsible for the child.
In 2014, the County of Orange filed a complaint against Cole for child support. A trial judge concluded he was the presumed father under Family Code Section 7611 and ordered support.
The Fourth District Court of Appeals affirmed, rejecting Cole's argument that sperm donors were not biological parents under Family Code Section 7613 at the time the child was born. The appeals court said the presumption of parenthood still applies when a man holds himself out as a father.
"[A] sperm donor who has established a familial relationship with the child, and has demonstrated a commitment to the child and the child's welfare, can be found to be a presumed parent even though he could not establish paternity based upon his biological connection to the child," the court said.
As in California, courts are holding men financially responsible in sperm-donor cases where they hold themselves out as fathers.
Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.