Actor’s Custody Case Sparks Parental-Rights Fight
SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- A child custody case involving "The Lost Boys" actor Jason Patric and his ex-girlfriend has grown into a heated battle in the California Legislature about whether certain sperm donors should be granted parental rights.
Patric took his case to state lawmakers after a judge ruled that he had no parental rights to Gus, the now 3-year-old son he conceived with Danielle Schreiber using in vitro fertilization. The resulting bill comes before a legislative committee Tuesday.
The couple, who never married, offer different versions of what role Patric was to play in the child’s life. Patric said he signed an "intended parent" document and spent significant time with the boy until Schreiber cut off his access, while her attorneys say his involvement was based on dating Schreiber and not as the boy’s intended father.
Their falling out led to a custody case, in which the judge determined that Patric met the definition of a sperm donor under a 2011 state law and thus had no legal rights as the boy’s father.
The author of that law, Democratic state Sen. Jerry Hill of San Mateo, says he is now attempting to clarify his previous statute so unmarried men who contribute to assisted reproductive methods are not unfairly stripped of parental rights.
Hill is carrying SB115, which would allow a man whose sperm was used to conceive a child through artificial insemination to ask a court for parental rights if he can show a certain level of involvement in the child’s life.
"This bill does not give me my son back," Patric told The Associated Press in an interview. "This bill allows me to come into a court of law and say, `This is my son.’"
He is expected to testify in support of the legislation Tuesday during an Assembly Judiciary Committee hearing.
While the legislation sailed through the Senate in April with no opposition, the state’s chapter of the National Organization for Women, Planned Parenthood, the Academy of California Adoption Lawyers and attorneys representing Schreiber now are raising concerns about the bill’s timing and potential consequences.
Opponents have written letters to the committee, arguing that SB115 could negatively affect the rights of same-sex couples or single mothers who use sperm donors to conceive.
They say the standards for involvement in the child’s life are too broad under the bill and that it could upend existing relationships between women and sperm donors if the donor decides later to seek a legal role in the child’s life.
"Parents, reliant on a sperm donor’s agreement not to parent, could have allowed the donor to develop a close relationship with the child, without thinking that he could later come in and demand paternal rights," wrote Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, in a June letter to Hill and Judiciary Committee members.
The bill does not specifically rule out anonymous sperm donors from seeking parental rights but says any man who seeks those rights must demonstrate some kind of ongoing relationship with the child.
Schreiber’s attorney, Fred Heather, criticized the legislation, saying it would make single mothers vulnerable to unnecessary lawsuits such as the one his client has been fighting.
"After a trial in front of an excellent judge who considered all the evidence, Jason Patric lost that case," Heather said.
Leaders of the Legislature’s Women’s Caucus and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Caucus have asked Hill to pull his measure for further discussion. Ammiano and other critics also say the bill should be put on hold until Patric’s legal case, which is pending before an appellate court, has been completed.
Others in the gay and lesbian community are supporting the legislation, including Equality California and the National Center for Lesbian Rights. Both groups said the bill strikes the right balance by requiring a donor seeking parental rights to have lived with the child and presented the child as his own.
"This bill will not allow any sperm donor to seek to establish his parentage," both groups said in separate statements. "The other parent or parents would need to invite him into the child’s life by allowing him to live with the child in order for this presumption of parentage to arise."
The groups supported Hill’s previous measure in 2011, which said unmarried men who provided sperm to a doctor or sperm bank do not have parental rights unless otherwise agreed to in writing prior to conception.
Hill’s office said Monday that the senator is offering amendments that would further clarify the standard of involvement that a sperm donor must show in the child’s life. Other proposed changes aim to resolve concerns about scenarios in which a donor waived his rights before the child’s conception.
Hill said in an interview that much of the opposition is based on an erroneous understanding of the law. He also disputed that the bill was written to aid Patric’s legal case, saying his office has been notified of similar situations involving several other men.
"This is truly about the modern family, and it has raised questions and issues for the courts that haven’t kept up with changing times," he said.