Lesbian couple locked in custody battle with sperm donor could set legal precedent
A lesbian couple in New Jersey has found themselves in the midst of a custody battle over their son after the sperm donor sued for parenting time.
According to NJ.com, Sheena and Tiara Yates had a son in June 2013 by means of at-home artificial insemination. They already had a toddler by the same means. In both cases, the couple drew up contracts with the sperm donors, stating that the men relinquished their parental rights.
However, between December 2013 and April 2014, both men sued for visitation rights. As the Yates family came to find out, the law for artificial insemination requires that the procedure be carried out under a doctor’s direct supervision before the non-biological parent can be considered the parent of the child. Now, both donors have visiting rights with the kids.
The Salem County Superior Court judge ruled in favor of the first donor they used, Shawn Sorrell. The Delaware resident now has a few hours of visiting rights every weekend with the older child and pays $83 a week in child support. The Yates have since filed an appeal with the Superior Court of New Jersey.
“Emotionally it’s very hard for us,” said Sheena Yates told NJ.com. “All we want is a family, and we can’t have kids without an outside party. It’s a lot for us to have to deal with. It’s not just hard on us, it’s hard on the kids, too.”
John Keating, the Yates family’s attorney, argued that the rule requiring direct doctor supervision disproportionately affects lower-income families who might not be able to afford the extraordinarily high expenses of fertility treatments.
“We don’t think this is an anti-LGBT decision,” Keating said. “But we do think it disparately impacts LGBT couples, and disproportionately impacts lower-income people.”
Keating also hopes that resolving the question of marital status will strengthen their position, saying:
We think it’s important the appellate division make a decision. Our purpose here is for other couples not to go through this. They set out to start a family together, and they did what they thought was the right thing. They entered into contracts with sperm donors, they consulted a physician and are now in a position of raising two children with two sperm donors instead of being two parents and their children. Now there are four parents raising these children.
Keating cautioned other couples who might be going through the same fertility process. “I want to caution anyone who’s thinking about doing any sort of assisted reproduction to consult an attorney and know what their rights are going to be,” he said. “They should know what their donor’s rights are so they don’t end up in this situation.”