A Kansas man who donated sperm to a lesbian couple after answering an online ad is fighting the state's efforts to suddenly force him to pay child support for the now 3-year-old girl, arguing that he and the women signed an agreement waiving all of his parental rights.
The case hinges on the fact that no doctors were used for the artificial insemination. The state argues that because William Marotta didn't work through a clinic or doctor, as required by state law, he can be held responsible for about $6,000 that the child's biological mother received through public assistance — as well as future child support.
At least 10 other states have similar requirements in their laws, including California, Illinois and Missouri, the Kansas Department of Children and Families argued in a prepared court documents it gave to The Associated Press late Wednesday.
Department spokeswoman Angela de Rocha said that when a single mother seeks benefits for a child, it's routine for the department to try to determine the child's paternity and require the father to make support payments to lessen the potential cost to taxpayers.
Marotta, a 46-year-old Topeka resident, answered an ad on Craigslist in 2009 from a local couple, Angela Bauer and Jennifer Schreiner, who said they were seeking a sperm donor. After exchanging emails and meeting, the three signed an agreement relieving Marotta of any financial or paternal responsibility.
But the Kansas Department for Children and Families argues the agreement isn't valid, because instead of working with a doctor, Marotta agreed to drop off containers with his sperm at the couple's home, according to documents faxed to the Shawnee County District Court late Wednesday and provided to the AP.
The women handled the artificial insemination themselves using a syringe, and Schreiner eventually became pregnant, according to the documents.
Late last year, after she and Bauer broke up, Schreiner received public assistance from the state to help care for the girl.
"My ex-partner and I wanted to have a baby," Schreiner said in a written statement to the department in January 2012, also included in the department's latest filing. "We were a gay couple so we had a sperm donor."
In October, the department filed a court petition against Marotta, asking that he be required to reimburse the state for the benefits and make future child support payments. Marotta is asking that the case be dismissed, arguing that he's not legally the child's father, only a sperm donor. A hearing is set for Tuesday.
Marotta told The Topeka-Capital Journal that he is "a little scared about where this is going to go, primarily for financial reasons."
His attorney didn't immediately return a phone message Wednesday from The Associated Press, and there was no listing for his home phone number in Topeka. Listings for Schreiner and Bauer were either incorrect or out of service, and Schreiner did not respond to a message sent by Facebook.
The agreement signed by Marotta, Schreiner and Bauer in March 2009, said the women "hold him harmless" financially. The agreement also said the child's birth certificate would not list a father.
Under a 1994 Kansas law, a sperm donor isn't considered the father only when a donor provides sperm to a licensed physician for artificial insemination of a woman who isn't the donor's wife. The result is an incentive for donors and prospective mothers to work with a doctor, de Rocha said.
"I believe that is the intent of the law, so that we don't end up with these ambiguous situations," she told the AP.
Also, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled in October 2007 that a sperm donor who works through a licensed physician can't legally be considered a child's father — and doesn't have the right to visit the child or have a role in its upbringing — absent a formal, written agreement. But the case involved a sperm donor who was seeking access to a child but had only an informal, unwritten agreement with the child's mother.
Linda Elrod, a law professor and director of Washburn University's Children and Family Law program, said the law seems clear: Sperm donors who don't want to be held liable for child support need to work with a doctor.
"Other than that, the general rule is strict liability for sperm," said Elrod, who filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the Supreme Court case.
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