Thursday, January 3, 2013

Kansas: Who's Your Daddy???

What does it mean to be a father?

A male person whose sperm unites with an egg, resulting in the conception of a child.
A man who adopts a child.
A man who raises a child.

Ideally I think the first and third definitions of that word should be found in the same man. But for better or worse times have changed. Most children born to women under thirty are being raised in single parent (primarily mother only) homes. Women who are lesbian or bisexual are marrying each other and bearing children or, in states where such marriages are not recognized, living together cobbling together piecemeal, such legal recognition as they can get.

I generally don't care about such changes though I'm not completely convinced they're good for the children involved or for society as a whole. I'm somewhat conservative socially. But it's not my life and the kids involved aren't mine so whatever the adults want to do in pursuit of their own happiness is more or less just dandy with me, provided they and their kids keep their hands out of my wallet and do not try to tell me what to think.

Of course, biology being what it is, it isn't possible for anyone in a gay male couple to bear children or for anyone in a lesbian couple to sire children. Those actions must be taken with the help of others, i.e. often surrogate mothers or sperm donors. Presumably, unless you happen to be a polygamist looking to deepen his bench, two's company and three's a crowd. The surrogate/donor is usually not asked to be a part of the gay/lesbian couple's life or the child's life. The surrogate/donor might be asked to sign a document giving away rights. Everyone's different of course but many state laws do not recognize more than one mother and one father nor do they accept "gender neutral" roles for father and mother.

So far so good, right? Well not so fast. In Kansas, this brave new world hit a speed bump when the happy lesbian couple depicted above broke up. The woman who wasn't the biological mother of a three year old girl came down with an undisclosed illness that prevented her from working and thus providing support to this girl (they have others). So the couple did what thousands of people do and applied for assistance from the State of Kansas. And the State of Kansas did what many states do and looked for the nearest man to shake down for support. In this case that turned out to be one William Marotta, the man who was the sperm donor.
A lesbian couple who found a sperm donor on Craigslist three years ago never meant the man to be any more than just that, and they are supporting his fight against the state’s request he pay child support.
“We’re kind of at a loss,” Topekan Angela Bauer, 40, said Saturday, speaking on behalf of her and her former partner, Jennifer Schreiner. “We are going to support him in whatever action he wants to go forward with.”The Kansas Department for Children and Families has filed a child support claim against Topekan William Marotta, who provided sperm used to artificially inseminate Schreiner. Bauer and Schreiner, 34, placed an ad for a sperm donor on Craigslist in March 2009.
Marotta responded, agreeing to relinquish all parental rights, including financial responsibility to the child.After the couple filed for assistance earlier this year, the state welfare agency demanded they provide the donor’s name so it could collect child support. The state has that authority, court documents state, because the insemination wasn’t performed by a licensed physician, thus making the contract void.
Without the donor’s name, the department told the women, it wouldn’t provide health benefits to their now 3-year-old girl — something Bauer no longer can provide because a diagnosis has left her incapable of working and in and out of rehabilitation since March.“This was a wonderful opportunity with a guy with an admirable, giving character who wanted nothing more than to help us have a child,” she said. “I feel like the state of Kansas has made a mess out of the situation.”

Marotta, needless to say, wasn't overly ecstatic about the state trying to take money from him for child support. He may have tried to do the right thing but he didn't dot the i's and cross the t's. As far as Kansas is concerned, the music has stopped and he has no chair. The law is the law. Inspector Javert or Stannis Baratheon would understand but Marotta does not.
In the long run, I think this will be a good thing, but I'm the one getting squashed," Marotta said. "I can't even believe it's gone this far at this point, and there's not a damn thing I can do about it."Though his attorneys, Benoit Swinnen and Hannah Schroller, are charging him reduced rates, Marotta said he expects the legal fees to eventually be more than he can afford. He is predominantly a mechanic but said he is currently working in a different field. He and his wife, Kimberly, have no biological children but care for foster children."I've already paid more than 10 percent of my yearly salary, and I don't know many folks who are willing to give up more than 10 percent of their yearly income," he said.
The state contends the agreement between Marotta and the women is not valid because Kansas law requires a licensed physician to perform artificial insemination.
"Speaking generally, all individuals who apply for taxpayer-funded benefits through DCF are asked to cooperate with child support enforcement efforts," Angela de Rocha, a spokeswoman for the Kansas Department for Children and Families, said in a statement. "If a sperm donor makes his contribution through a licensed physician and a child is conceived, the donor is held harmless under state statue. In cases where the parties do not go through a physician or a clinic, there remains the question of who actually is the father of a child or children.
This is a mess. Marotta never intended to be a father to the child and from what I can tell has not been. I don't think the law is designed for this unique situation. But I also know that once this is adjudicated, the state and/or Marotta's employer won't care about anything other than making sure an exact amount of money is extracted from Marotta's paycheck at least once or twice a month for the next fifteen years or so. I think that Bauer, the woman who can't work because of her medical issue, is the person the state should be going after. I don't think too many women who needed child support from a man would be overly sympathetic were that man to claim some sort of disability and resulting inability to work. More importantly I know the state wouldn't be too understanding. In fact the state might even do something as unfriendly as garnishing wages or other income or even put the man in jail until he remembered other funds he had. So why should this case be any different? This raises other questions.
Kansas does not recognize gay marriages. In its zeal to take money from someone it sees as a "deadbeat dad", could it be on the verge of unintentionally recognizing gay/polygamous marriages? Kansas is saying that someone who is not legally married to the women and isn't acting as a father, nevertheless has responsibilities that would normally accrue to a father or ex-husband. Interesting. As two people of the same gender can't create life, are pro-gay marriage partisans willing to help update child support laws so that it would be crystal clear that sperm donors only agree to use of their sperm and freely divest themselves from any fatherly financial responsibilities?  But wait there's more!

Why wouldn't such new laws also be available to heterosexual men and women? This brings up the "choice for men" debate. Should a heterosexual man be able to stipulate to a heterosexual woman that he is only interested in sex? If a woman decides to carry any pregnancy to term, the donor would have no legal or financial responsibility. If a man can say that to a lesbian couple he's assisting, why couldn't he say that to a heterosexual woman he's seeing? Should we rework the entire child support system to make marriage (gay or straight) the only structure in which child support will be ordered and enforced?

Perhaps this Kansas situation is an excellent argument FOR gay marriage. If the women were legally married there would be less chance of an outsider being held responsible for child support. If Kansas prevails here, I imagine that there will soon be fewer or lower quality sperm donors to be found. But if you're trolling for baby daddies on Craigslist, quality is probably not your highest goal. Anyway go ahead, play Solomon.


What's the right thing to do here?

Should sperm donation always be anonymous?

Should the man pay child support?

Should a man be able to donate sperm and forever avoid fatherly responsibilities?

Should the non-biological mother pay child support?

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