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What's the Difference Between a Natural Father and a Sperm Donor?

By Robyn Hagan Cain | Last updated on

A California appellate court has clarified that a sperm donor who is not married to a designated recipient mother does not have to pay child support.

The unpublished opinion won press coverage earlier this month because the alleged “father” in the child support lawsuit is national bodybuilding champion Ronnie Coleman, and the child support in question totaled $4,000 per month.

Coleman and the mother, Jo D., had a sexual relationship while they were neighbors in Texas. Five years after she moved to California, Coleman provided sperm at the California Cryobank, Inc. (Cryobank) for Jo D.'s artificial insemination. Jo D. gave birth to triplets in 2007. Several months the babies were born, Coleman married another woman.

Jo D. named Coleman as the father on her babies' birth certificates. In 2008, Jo D. sued Coleman for child support, reports The Associated Press. Coleman, however, maintained that he was not the "natural father," and asked the courts to set aside his declaration of paternity.

California's Uniform Parentage Act states "The donor of semen provided to a licensed physician and surgeon or to a licensed sperm bank for use in artificial insemination or in vitro fertilization of a woman, other than the donor's wife, is treated in law as if he were not the natural father of a child thereby conceived."

An unmarried sperm donor can overcome the presumption that he is not the natural father by marrying or attempting to marry the child's mother, or by publicly acknowledging paternity in a specified manner. A man is presumed to be the natural father of a child if he receives the child into his home and openly holds out the child as his natural child.

In light of Steven S. v. Deborah D., the appellate court ruled that the Uniform Parentage Act bars a determination that Coleman is the children's father based on his role as the sperm donor who contributed to the conception of the children.

Here, Coleman and Jo D. jointly acted to conceive children through a sperm donation, falling within the scope of the statute. Although Jo D. and Coleman may have had an implied or informal agreement regarding biological parenthood, the statute contains no exception for such agreements.

If you're entering into an artificial insemination arrangement with someone you know, make sure you take the proper steps under the Uniform Parentage Act to either acknowledge or disavow paternity before you find yourself entangled in a natural-father-versus-sperm-donor battle in court.

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