This is “Baby Mama Drama” taken to a whole ‘nother level.
Originally reported by WIBW, William Marotta, a married 46-year-old machinist with no children of his own, was perusing Craigslist in 2009 when he stumbled onto an ad from a Topeka, Kansas lesbian couple seeking a sperm donor. “Intrigued” by the ad, he agreed to donate and says he delivered three cup-fulls of his sperm to their home. He refused the $50 payment the women offered, and had no expectation other than the satisfaction that comes from helping a family. Married with no children, Marotta and his wife Kimberly have cared for foster children of their own.
Well, he got much more than he expected. In late October 2012, Marotta received notification from the state of Kansas that he was being held liable as the biological father of the child. In a case that is gaining national and international headlines, the state is suing Marotta for future child support and Medicaid medical expense repayment of the three-year old girl, CNN reports.
Marotta and the couple, Angela Bauer and Jennifer Schreiner, signed an agreement holding him harmless for support of the daughter Schreiner conceived through artificial insemination with Marotta’s sperm. He signed a contract relinquishing all parental rights, including financial responsibilities, to any child born out of artificial insemination. The couple inseminated Schreiner with a syringe in their home, and she became pregnant.
“The child is theirs, not mine. They’re raising her, not me, so to me it’s almost a non-issue,” said a clearly bewildered Marotta. He said that he has received occasional updates about the child from the couple, but the only time he’s ever seen the child was when he and his wife had a happenstance encounter with the family at a local carnival.
Here’s the video from the WIBW article:
“I donated genetic material and that was it for me. I’m not being held to be a parent, I’m not raising a child, I wasn’t expected to be paying for child support,” protested Marotta.
The couple sent him occasional emails with updates on the development of the child.
Court records show that Marotta and the couple signed an agreement in March 2009 giving up parental rights to the couple. The agreement also absolves Marotta of financial responsibility, but the state contends the agreement is invalid.
Bower’s illness required her to stop working, and Schreiner was forced to apply for state financial assistance. .
In court documents, the Department for Children and Families (DCF) says that Schreiner lied to the agency when she initially said that she didn’t know the donor’s name. On a January 5 2012 application for child support, Schreiner entered question marks for the father’s name and wrote “no idea — sperm donor” in the field that asks “Who do you think is the father and why?” In a sworn statement that day, she wrote: “My ex-partner and I wanted to have a baby. We were a gay couple so we had a sperm donor. We looked through donor profiles and chose one that we liked that had my partner’s same (characteristics). We do not have any information on (the child’s) sperm donor besides basic health history.”
DCF says that it received different versions of the donor contract, including the first copy provided by Schreiner that has no dates or signatures. The contract “may be invalid on its face,” the filing states.
The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that on September 11 2012, Schreiner provided her DCF caseworker with a copy of the sperm donor contract that states the names of all parties, including Marotta. “These applications are very troubling,” the filing says, “because (Schreiner) clearly deceived DCF on her first application. She knew the name of the respondent because of the purported ‘sperm donor contract.’ However, she lied on her application and in a sworn statement by stating she did not and by implying that she used a sperm bank.”
The filing further states that it is “implausible to think” that Marotta did not know that a physician or clinic was not involved in the insemination procedure, because he personally delivered sperm to the couple’s home “rather than at a doctor’s office or clinic, on three separate occasions.”
Under a 1994 Kansas law, a sperm donor isn’t considered the father when a donor provides sperm to a licensed physician for artificial insemination of a woman who is not his wife or partner. “The donor of semen provided to a licensed physician for use in artificial insemination of a woman other than the donor’s wife is treated in law as if he were not the birth father of a child thereby conceived, unless agreed to in writing by the donor and the woman,” according to the Kansas Parentage Act of 1994.
Angela de Rocha, spokeswoman for DCF, told USA Today 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: “I believe that is the intent of the law, so that we don’t end up with these ambiguous situations,” Rocha said. She indicated that the state is only pursuing child support and medical repayment because $6,000 in benefits were provided for the child.
Tim Hrenchir, a reporter with the Topeka Capital-Journal who has been following the case closely, told NPR:
“In 1994, the state of Kansas passed a law regulating sperm donor-ship that said a person was not responsible as a parent as long as they had a medical doctor carry out the insemination. A medical doctor was not used for this particular insemination.” The law is based on the premise that only a doctor can certify that the donor has no connection with the child’s mother other than the donor-ship “and not, for example, a boyfriend who’s posing as a sperm donor, but should actually be required to help support the child.”
Hrenchir says that regarding the mother:
“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.”
Linda Elrod, a law professor and director of Washburn University’s Children and Family Law program, told USA Today that the law is clear in requiring a medical practitioner to oversee sperm donation. “Other than that, the general rule is strict liability for sperm,” she said.
Marotta believes that the case is politically driven. “There’s [sic] some issues particularly in the state of Kansas that have to do with same-sex unions.” He intends to stand his ground even at the risk of extensive legal fees. “If enough noise gets made about it at this point, maybe things will change for the better,” he said. “So if I can help bring attention to it and get things changed then so be it.”
His attorney, Benoit Swinnen, agrees with him. In 2005, voters approved a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. He believes that state officials’ pursuit of Marotta is designed to reinforce the definition of a family as a married man and woman and their children. He said the state is trying to send a message that, “anything else is no good.”
In an interview with the Topeka Capital-Journal, Swinnen said:
“We stand by that contract. The insinuation is offensive, and we are responding vigorously to that. We stand by our story. There was no personal relationship whatsoever between my client and the mother, or the partner of the mother, or the child. Anything the state insinuates is vilifying my client, and I will address it.”
Swinnen filed two documents on Friday, January 4. The first was a response to the state’s motion to appoint a guardian for the child, and the second was a motion to protect the identity of the child. Swinnen took the Marotta case because he believes that society has changed since the statute was adopted in Kansas in 1994, and alternative family structures are more common. “I believe strongly it’s a conversation we should have. So in view of that, I think that this is a good time to have that conversation,” he said.
Swinnen elaborated in an interview with WIBW.
“The main argument for the legality is that the time this contract was entered into, there was no child and the rights of the child were not bargained away. You cannot exist before conception Even the most conservative views would agree with that,” Swinnen said.
When asked about political motivation, Swinnen responded:
“My understanding or my inference is that there is a political motivation. We had (sic) sent a letter to the state outlining our position before they filed and we didn’t even get an answer. The state just went ahead and filed without even responding to our letter. I’m inclined to believe that this is politically motivated. I’ve also had contact with prior senior members of the department and it’s my understand there would have been a discretionary decision to be made to go ahead or not go ahead on this case.”
He believes that “in view of the millions of dollars that the state rightfully collects from biological fathers, this 6000 looks so diminimous [sic] in that picture and the cost to the state to bring this case far outweighs any benefit the state will get out of it.” He continued with, “It’s just under the facts of this case, and we are very comfortable that we can provide evidence that we can provide evidence that the contract was entered into before any donation occurred, and we can also provide evidence … We are also very confident that we can demonstrate that the only donation was in a cup. That is an evidentiary issue.”
Swinnen says that the state’s efforts in Marotta’s case are also contrary to a Kansas Supreme Court ruling. In 2007, a donor sued to try to win visitation rights and was denied by the courts. Swinnen says that if the father had no parental rights in that case, Marotta should be declared to have no parental obligations in his case. “So now, we are flipping the argument around,” Swinnen told Reuters on Wednesday. “The state of Kansas is lagging behind in following the trend,” he told the New York Daily News. “It is a freeze, in my opinion, on artificial insemination and alternative family settings.”
“I don’t fault the state for this,” Corey Whelan, who conducts workshops for lesbian couples interested in having children via New York’s American Fertility Association, told The Huffington Post. “I don’t think this is a homophobic issue. I think this is a financially driven issue.” Whelan’s group advises single women who want a child to work with doctors and attorneys, and that avoiding professionals is “a buyer-beware proposition.”
In The Huffington Post article, Steve Snyder, a Minnesota-based attorney and chairman of the American Bar Association’s group on assisted reproduction technology, said that money plays a big role in this issue. Artificial insemination is generally not covered by health insurance and can cost between $3,000 or more . “It is happening a lot,” Snyder said. “Go on amazon.com, home insemination kit, $29.95. A lot of LGBT couples use them. I have a lot of cases involving those types of kits or people who intend to use them.”
This is not the first case of its kind in the U.S. More often than not, private sperm donation agreements have a happy ending. Rulings in other states have been widely varying:
- In 2008, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that a sperm donor would not have to pay child support because the woman who conceived a child with the man’s sperm promised she’d not hold him financially liable and she cannot renege on the deal.
- However, a 2007 Pennsylvania case that involved a sperm donor who donated sperm to a lesbian couple was held liable for child support under a state appellate court ruling.
- A Seattle man was ordered to pay child support in 2007 because he had a relationship of sorts with the child, even though he was married and had offered his sperm to a lesbian couple. The child, aged 18 year old in 2007, was headed to college and the man was ordered to pay child support until the child turned 21.
- A Mew Mexico donor was found liable in a 2008 court ruling.
In 2002, the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws recommended that states have laws specifying that “a donor is not a parent of a child conceived by means of assisted reproduction” and that cannot be required to support a child conceived via donor-ship.
Marotta has not been in contact with Schreiner or Bauer since the case began. A court hearing originally scheduled for January 8 has been postponed to allow each side time to develop their arguments. Swinnen said the court’s decision was “wise and prudent under the circumstances” because the case “raises many difficult and complex issues.”
In an article titled “Sperm Donor Agreements: Essential Information for Parents and Donors“, Diana Adams, an attorney who assists families in creating Sperm Donor Agreements in New York, says that the field of law is shifting as acceptance of alternate routes to parenting increases. How Marotta’s case plays out will be closely watched for potential implications in gay rights and assisted reproduction.
Bauer and Schreiner have told The Topeka Capital-Journal that they are backing Marotta in his fight. Bauer said she is “forever grateful” to Marotta and his wife. Neither of the women are asking for money.
Asked if he would pursue visitation rights, Marotta said he would not, because he is not the child’s parent. Would he consider being a donor again? He admitted with some hesitation that he probably would not.
As Marotta said in an interview on the Today Show, “No good deed goes unpunished.” His wife added, “This is not at all what we signed up for.”
A lesson learned by this story? Don’t go “perusing” too much on the internet. I genuinely believe that Mr. Marotta’s intentions were for good, but I’m pretty sure that he didn’t see this ad in the auto or electronics categories on Craigslist. It seems that the age-old adage holds true: fellas, keep it zipped up, even if it’s jut a cup. If you want to be a sperm donor, make sure you have a doctor and attorney involved or are donating via a sperm bank.
I am an unapologetic member of the Christian Left, and have spent a lot of time working with “the least of these” and disadvantaged and oppressed populations. I’m passionate about their struggles. To stay on top of topics I discuss, subscribe to my public updates on Facebook, follow me on Twitter, or connect with me via LinkedIn. I also have a grossly neglected blog. Find me somewhere and let’s discuss stuff.