Couple Entangled In Sperm Donor Battle

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Couple Entangled In Sperm Donor Battle

Assisted Reproduction Laws need move into the 21st century family landscape. The modern family is changing especially with new IVF treatments emerging and more realistic legal parameters need to be in place so situations like Sheena and Tiara Yates will be a thing of the past.

“When Sheena and Tiara Yates decided they wanted to have a second child, the lesbian couple sought out a sperm donor and drew up a contract in which the man agreed to give up his paternity rights – a measure they believed would spare them a second custody battle with a donor,” wrote Bruce Shipkowski of the Associated Press. “Their child, conceived through at-home artificial insemination, is now 1, and the couple is again locked in a custody dispute.”

Why? Because in New Jersey, a person who is the non-biological parent will only be recognized as the natural parent if the insemination process was done by a physician.

Now, the sperm donor wants parental rights.

While the couple did meet with their doctor, who examined Sheen Yates and was prescribed her prenatal vitamins in preparation for the pregnancy, the couple chose to do the insemination at home so they could avoid the medical costs.

In an earlier report, Yates said, “All we want is a family, and we can’t have kids without an outside party.”

Yates went on to say how this whole legal battle is incredibly hard for the entire family.

Shipkowski writes that Susan Sommer, director of constitutional litigation for Lambda Legal, said the Yates’ saga is a clear example of the outdated way courts perceive parenting. Holding onto this viewpoint is not accurately addressing the other options how children are born, including artificial insemination.

She tells the reporter, “Our laws really need to catch up to reality. It’s children who are getting hurt.” She also pointed out, “That judges don’t always dig into the specifics of whether a doctor is directly involved in an artificial insemination procedure, but that biological fathers seeking to overturn earlier agreements often look for loopholes.”

Sommer said there shouldn’t be a looming “gotcha” just because a doctor wasn’t in the same room during the insemination.

Attorney John Keating represents Yates. He is hopeful that their case will cast more light on reproductive rights for those living in New Jersey.

But Kimberly Mutcherson, a bioethics and family law professor at Rutgers University in Camden thinks otherwise, at least for the time being.

She tells Shipkowski, “It’s pretty much long been the case that the way that you protect yourself when you use donor sperm is by going to a physician. I don’t see that changing any time soon. I think people and policy makers want there to be pretty clear rules. The problem is people don’t know that’s the rule.”

ammianoOn the west coast, CA Assembly Bill No. 2344, more popularly known as the “Modern Family Act,” received its own share of media attention. It’s a bill that addresses just this case.

The premise of the “Modern Family Act,” is to make the parental process swift for non-biological parents, such as in same-sex couples who require a sperm donor or egg donor.

San Francisco Supervisor, Tom Ammiano, shared the following with GSN about AB 2344:

  • “In recent decades and years, we have seen the growth of families made possible by assisted reproductive technologies. Different forms of alternative insemination, surrogacy and other medical advances have been used to make new families.”
  • “It’s a good thing when technology allows more people to form healthy, loving parental relationships and the state should be encouraging that.”
  • “The Modern Family Act lets them to do that in three main ways. Those are: streamlining stepparent adoption where appropriate, providing a form to clarify parental intent in cases of sperm or egg donation, and requiring a disclosure of health insurance for surrogacy.”

While the Modern Family Act aids the LGBT community, Ammiano underscores how it aims to help heterosexual couples, too.

“Really, it’s just about allowing families to avoid unnecessary legal pitfalls,” he said.

While AB 2344 passed the legislature and went through the enrollment phase, it seems to have stalled there. However, historically, assembly bills can be rewritten and resubmitted.

Knowing that the Modern Family Act did get recognition gives hope to many.


In the meantime, we will keep seeing cases just like this.