I have been following the Jason Patric story in the news for a while. As long as I have known about his attempt to parent his son I have been genuinely rooting for him. However, this story has been a bit of an annoyance for families who decided to use anonymous donor sperm to create their families. Families who filled out crap-tons of paperwork and dotted all i’s and crossed all t’s. His situation is NOT our situation. At all. It is, however, a cautionary tale for everyone within the world of fertility treatments.
Jason’s ex, Danielle Schreiber, tried to conceive with Jason while they were together. It didn’t work and she realized she would need to step it up and use IVF. This requires sperm to be provided in advance so that a doctor can prepare it and then fertilize eggs retrieved. Sperm samples are provided in clinic by husbands, boyfriends, and known donors. In my case, the anonymous donor sperm the embryologist used to create the embryos that would eventually become my son was frozen and waiting to be thawed in the lab.
There were no documents for the anonymous donor to sign because he had already signed all paperwork at the sperm bank. There is no way the anonymous donor could suddenly show up and legally claim paternity.
Danielle Schreiber approached things at the clinic differently. She provided Jason’s sperm sample, with his blessing, and she listed his name, along with hers, as an intended parent. The IVF was successful and in December, 2009 Gus was born. Because of Jason’s celebrity status his story of presumed paternity, sperm donation, and his (ex) girlfriend’s IVF were headline news.
The Hollywood Reporter says, “Although Patric might not have been ready at first to be a father, he says he developed a relationship with his newborn son. When the actor was working in New York, Schreiber and Gus would stay with him at his apartment there. When they weren’t there, Patric communicated with Gus via Skype.”
So what’s the deal? Why, four and a half years after the birth of this kid are there legal proceedings about custody and why is the term sperm donor being tossed about? Good questions. Danielle and Patric dated for ten years but when the relationship was over she didn’t want Jason to have any custody rights to his kid. She called Jason “the sperm donor” and a California judge sided with Danielle and denied Jason’s paternity claim.
Today Jason won an appeal of that ruling and he will be able to return to court and fight for some form of custody.
I am going to admit that I may be incredibly naive about this case, but this appeal feels like a victory for kids. There are so many parents who walk away from parenting and truly wish to have no involvement in a child’s life. This seems to be a situation where a man did not fill out all of the proper paperwork before his girlfriend had IVF. After the couple broke up she seems to have taken advantage of that and used the lack of paperwork to wash this man right out of her life. The problem is that there is a kid involved and he already has a relationship with Jason.
My son does not have a relationship with his sperm donor. That is what I signed up for at the start of my motherhood journey. However I did want him to have the option to know him at some point in his life. This is why I used an open donor. When W turns 18 he will have the option of finding out and possibly knowing his donor. That was important to me.
I’m pretty sad that Danielle would deny her kid the chance to know Jason – even if she has demoted him to “the donor”.
I talked to Kym from The Smartness about this case because I always talk to her when infertility and legal issues are breaking news. (ok, fine, we talk about pretty much everything else too.) I wanted to know her feelings about this case and about this ruling. I poked a stick at her and STRONGLY SUGGESTED that she write a blog post, but she yelled at me. Something about “end of the year” “chaos” “you are not the boss of me” – so I am going to just copy and paste what she told me in our private messages*. BWHA HA HA.
Me: What do you think?
Kym: I think this is a back-and-forth case that could have gone/could still go either way. But I think the deciding factor won’t necessarily be Patric’s delayed desire to have lawful parent rights.
Me: You should write about this.
Kym: SHUT UP (paraphrased)
Kym: I think it will come down to the fact that she put his name down on paper in the “intended parent” space. If you strip what Patric’s relationship with his son eventually evolved to, the IVF paperwork gives him parental rights because she assigned them. While I sympathize with Patric, I think he messed up by declaring that he didn’t want to parent and then backtracked and said, “You know what? Maybe I do.” And is now fighting for those rights. His original intent when he donated that sperm was NOT TO PARENT. That gives whatsherface a point in her favor, regardless of what she allowed their relationship to evolve to.
Me: Look at you, writing a blog post…
Kym: LOL I guess I did sort-of write a post.
Kym: I think what needs to be proven is the degree to what the father/son dynamic evolved to — that could be an even bigger point in his favor. That, plus the fact that she GAVE him rights when he donated the sperm by putting his name down in the intended parent spot is what earned him his current victory. I think this is a dangerous case, and I see why parents via donor gametes are worried and do not agree with this ruling.
Me: You are just going to keep on talking and looking smart, aren’t you?
Kym: mmmm hmmmm
It might set precedent for donors to one day fight for and win back parental rights if they change their minds somewhere down the line. The clearest fact in this case is the IVF paperwork which gives him the right to parent; it’s written in black and white.
Me: You don’t think parents who conceived with anonymous sperm/gametes have anything to worry about, do you?
Kym: no, I do not think there is anything to worry about. Anonymity is not part of this issue. It’s the parents who A) used known donors and B) used known donors who have some semblance of a relationship with the child.
Me: Anything you would say to Jason or Danielle?
Kym: To both I would say: “Don’t let this fight allow either of you to lose focus on what is really at stake — Gus and his well-being. He is so much more important than either one of you being ‘the right one.'”
SEE? This is why I talk to Kym about this stuff.
*OBVIOUSLY Kym knows I am sharing our conversation here. For those who aren’t lucky enough to know Kym (and you should immediately fix that by following her on Twitter) she is one of my favorite people, and a former gestational surrogate who is smarter than your average homegirl when it comes to such legal issues. Neither Kym nor I are providing legal advice within this post.