California assembly bill attempts to iron out 21st century family law

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The debate regarding egg and sperm donation continues. And I suspect we are going to see a lot more of it.

It’s one of monumental importance, because in this century, we are redefining family law and all its nuances.

In courtrooms, we’re hearing questions regarding “who is” or “who is not” considered a legal parent, challenging state laws across the nation.  It’s marking a new type of courtroom drama.

And high profile cases are sprouting in California.

For instance, Hollywood celebrity, Jason Patric, and his former girlfriend Danielle Schreiber are in the middle of a contentious case. Patric is seeking custody of his four-year-old son who he fathered by after Schreiber was artificially inseminated. She says he’s a “sperm donor” and should have no legal rights. He says he’s a “dad” and should have all legal rights.

This case, among others, is netting the attention of the Golden State.

“California lawmakers will consider updating family law and parental rights to keep up with the evolving nature of families when they return from summer break,” wrote Fenit Nirappil of the Associated Press in an article entitled, Bills aim to bring family law into 21st century.  “Bitter, high-profile disputes have inspired legislators to modernize laws molded for ‘Leave it to Beaver’-era families.”

In the article, among Patric are the children of the late Casey Kasem. Also fathered through sperm donation, these children fought Kasem’s wife to see him during his declining health. Likewise, she is their stepmother.

Nirappil writes, “Supporters of these bills say such cases demonstrate that laws are lagging behind technology and social change. Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, a San Francisco Democrat and longtime gay rights advocate, said updating the laws is just one way for nontraditional families to gain acceptance.”

Firsthand, on the legal frontlines, I am seeing how times are changing. We are now in an age where nontraditional families are transforming into traditional ones.

In the Associated Press article, Ammiano states, “As a lawmaker, what you can accomplish is changing what’s in the law that’s being detrimental and dehumanizing.”

This point of view aligns well with a recent legislation signed by California Gov. Jerry Brown.  Last month, he removed the definition of marriage between a “man and woman” in family law. Now, any indication of a husband or wife has now been swapped with the word, “spouse.”

Nirappil goes on to report, “With gay marriage legalized in California last year, the Senate is considering Ammiano’s ‘Modern Family Act’ to confront thorny situations same-sex and other couples have found themselves in under existing law. The bill, AB2344, would expedite adoptions for non-biological parents, such as a lesbian woman whose spouse gave birth to their child.”

Nirappil pointed out how the bill would take away any procedural requirement(s) which add to a court hearing or state mandated investigation.

Non-biological parents are encouraged to formally adopt children because some states do not recognize them as parents even though California does, the reporter writes.

For surrogates and sperm donors, AB2344 also highlights their legal or financial responsibilities. Some legal experts in the family law field, Nirappil reports, do regard this as an important step toward better clarification to avoid disputes.

Also in the article, Bills aim to bring family law into 21st century, law professor at the University of California at Davis, Lisa Ikemoto, voices her opinion.

“Most of the laws we have in place deal with the use of these technologies once they have already been used and the child is born.”

This new legislative bill, among others, will help fill that gap.

“Broader legislation that failed last year would have allowed sperm donors to petition for paternal rights if they demonstrate involvement in their biological children’s lives,” Nirappil wrote.  He continued, “The new bill, AB2344, instead would create an optional form that would clarify what, if any, role a sperm donor should have in a child’s life.”

The reporter goes on to point out that in a legal battle such as Patric’s, what’s not addressed is what happens if a donor takes on a parental role despite how the initial agreement was originally signed.

Personally speaking, I’m sure Patric’s ex-girlfriend wished she used an anonymous sperm donor instead of a known one.  But of course, some people are not comfortable with using anonymous donors — it’s all a personal choice.

Hopefully, new progressive assembly bills waiting in the wings can resolve messy “sperm donor” cases like Patric is embroiled in.

Social conservatives, of course, don’t want to shake up the status quo of traditional family law.

But look around, and you’ll see that the “traditional family status quo” is no longer the “status quo.