Every day we see one of the offshoots of the sexual revolution; the freedom to have children outside of marriage without the social stigma which both children and parents of children born out of wedlock were subjected to thirty or more years ago.
Coupled with the freedom to have children outside of wedlock comes the feeling that one does not have to rush to have children. Parents now are much older when they have children than in decades past. Along with the freedom to wait, however, comes a price: the ability to conceive a child later in life is fraught with biological complications and difficulty. The fertility business is growing, and with increased demand, is expected to continue to do just that.
All of these forces give rise to a new scenario becoming more common each day. Adults who are not married want to have children. They need the genetic material as well as fertility procedures to do this. A woman can use the sperm of a friend, a romantic partner, an acquaintance or someone who anonymously provided sperm through a tissue bank. A man can have a child using an egg obtained in a similar manner, carried by a surrogate. Gay couples can have children using some combination of both. It’s a brave new world when it comes to conceiving and raising children. And in many cases, the potential parents and providers of genetic material haven’t thought all the details through before deciding to proceed.
People engaging in this process need to understand the legal and financial implications of what they are about to do. They don’t always do that. Recently, Sue and Bob came to me for a parentage agreement. They met online on a site seeking to match potential “parenting partners”. They were ready to proceed quickly to create embryos and had already been screened medically. All fine and good. However, there was apparently never a discussion about the number of children that would be created if there were multiple viable embryos. One party wanted the right to implant all of them, the other did not appreciate how many children could result from this process. And, coupled with that, is the substantial financial responsibility that comes with each child born as a result of these procedures which hadn’t been thought through in enough detail, either.
Janet and Julie, recently married, wanted to start a family and use their mutual friend Dale’s sperm. Dale was willing to provide it and thought he would have the opportunity to be the “uncle” to Janet and Julie’s child that the child would otherwise not have. Janet and Julie wanted Dale to be involved, but only to a certain extent–they wanted to maintain full legal control over the child that would result, and allow Dale to visit, interact, and maybe take the little boy or girl for overnights when they wanted a weekend break. What neither realized was that the simple sperm donation which would otherwise have protected Dale from child support, and which would have kept him legally out of Janet and Julie’s family, might not in the end protect either one if there was a change of heart down the road and the contemplated events of being an “uncle” in the manner described had occurred.
What people need to understand is that things are not that simple. The law provides safeguards here to a certain extent. But future actions can change what the final outcome is and that can be surprising to all of the parties concerned.
People need to know what their rights and risks are before they enter into these arrangements. The issues need to be discussed with a lawyer ahead of time. When a child is or children are going to be born, it isn’t a matter of quickly drawing up something and moving on. It is a lifelong commitment that can be rewarding for the parents or a big source of strife. Unfortunately, while one would think that those who wait to have children are wiser, this is not always the case.