The Guardian recently reported about a gay man who donated his sperm to enable a lesbian couple to have two children. He was never named on their birth certificate and had no role in their upbringing, however he is being forced by the Child Support Agency to pay for their support – 13 years after the first child was born.
Mark Langridge, who has been with his partner for 16 years (and in a civil partnership for the last five), has called on the government to review the law after the CSA suddenly demanded that he start paying £26 a week for two children he technically fathered over a decade ago. He has had no contact with the family since 2004, but the CSA said that he has to either pay up, or take a DNA test to show that he is not their natural father.
His story will send shivers down the spine of any man who was asked to donate their sperm by a childless woman in the 90s. Back then it was impossible for women to use official sperm banks unless they had a male partner – something that is no longer the case. Changes to the law mean that if Langridge made the donation today in similar circumstances he wouldn't be financially liable for the children, and he has called for the law governing this area to be applied retrospectively. It is thought that there are several other men caught up in the same position.
He understands that the non-biological mother in the pair continues to live near the former family home, and to see the girls at weekends, in the same way, he says, any other divorced or separated parent would – even though they were never civil partners. Yet the CSA is not chasing the other mother for support payments.
Natalie Gamble, founder of Natalie Gamble Associates, the UK's foremost experts on fertility law, says the law in this area changed a few years ago. "Had the donation taken place after April 2009, or through a clinic, the law would have viewed his responsibility very differently. In that case he would not be deemed the father, provided the consenting couple to which he was making the donation were in a civil partnership, or his donation to the couple was through a licensed clinic. The fact that it was made on a private basis before that date means the law is very clear. He is considered the father."
Natalie Gamble Associates are specialist lawyers who have advised on cases like these for many years (including the case of Andy Bathie, which received worldwide press coverage back in 2008). They say ‘We know that the law on this is black and white – whether you are financially responsible depends on whether you are legally the ‘father’.
A sperm donor is the legal father, whether or not he appears on the birth certificate, unless:
- he donates his sperm through a licensed clinic (without planning an ongoing role if he knows the recipients), or
- he donates to a married couple, or
- he donates, after April 2009, to a lesbian couple who are civil partners.
In all other cases (including private donations to single women, unmarried couples and lesbian couples before April 2009) there is no financial protection for sperm donors. It often shocks people to learn that any verbal or written agreement that the donor would have no financial responsibility is completely irrelevant.
Should the law be changed? Mark Langridge certainly thinks so. The law is particularly cruel in his case, since in 1998 and 2000 it would have been difficult for him to have donated to the mothers via a clinic to give him financial protection, and the law did not then (as it now does) hold both lesbian mothers legally and financially responsible.
The key message to others has to be to take care before acting as a private donor. Make sure you structure things to protect yourself (by only donating to a married/civilly partnered couple or via a clinic) or at the very least that you understand the risk you are taking. Read more about being a known sperm donor.
Looking to donate sperm or find a known sperm donor? visit www.prideangel.com
Article sources: 1st November 2012 www.guardian.co.uk and www.nataliegambleassociates.co.uk