Known Donor Family Law New York – Protecting Lesbian Mothers

Known Donor Family Law New York is changing. 

Many lesbian couples look to known donor family law New York prior to choosing known donors to help them have their families.  In my legal practice, I have seen this number increase steadily over the last 10 years.  Reasons for choosing a known donor include giving children a link to their biological heritage, having access to specific medical histories and providing male influences in the lives of children born into these progressive families.

The law appears to be coalescing in favor of intended mothers and a recent Appellate Division case moves known donor family law in New York further in that direction.  Before discussing the new case, let me give you a brief history of existing known donor family law in New York.known donor family law New York

Existing Family Law Treatment

Brooklyn Family Court Judicial Hearing Officer (JHO) Harold Ross, in a decision titled The Matter of L., et. al, held that as long as uncertainty exists for LGBT couples who create their families with assisted reproductive technology (ART), with both anonymous and known donors, then second parent adoptions are the best way to secure those families from this uncertainty.

In the Matter of Brooke S.B. v. Elizabeth A.  C.C., a landmark decision released in August of 2016, the New York’s highest court overturned previous New York precedent that had torn families apart for decades and ruled that non-biological and non-adoptive parents did have standing to sue for custody and visitation in the New York family court system.  While this case did not specifically address the issue of a known donor’s rights to a child he helped come to be, it brought New York family law in line with many other states which recognize “de facto” parents for the purpose of custody and visitation and prioritizes the best interests of the child in making these critical decisions.

New Case Law 

This new known donor case, entitled In the Matter of Christopher YY v. Jessica ZZ and Nicole ZZ, New York’s Appellate Division, Third Department (whose jurisdiction covers matters derived in South Central New York State to North Eastern and Central Eastern Counties in New York) addressed the issue of a known donor who sought to have a paternity test ordered by a family court.  The family court agreed with the donor and ordered the testing.  The mothers filed an appeal and the result of that appeal was to overturn the lower family court’s decision to order paternity testing for two reasons, thus codifying new known donor family law in New York.

The first reason was the marital status of the mothers.  They were married when they planned on having the child and they had an informal agreement (one drafted and executed without the benefit of legal counsel) with their donor, something that all intended mothers should have with their known donor prior to insemination.  The court stated that there existed a “presumption of legitimacy of a child born to a married woman.”  Even if this presumption exists, the court must conduct a “best interests of the child” analysis before any paternity testing can be ordered.

known sperm donorsThe key question is whether the paternity testing is in the best interests of a child.  The court determined that the presumption existed regardless of the gender of the parents, a huge statement of support for lesbian couples across New York.  However, that presumption can be “rebutted” by a donor in certain circumstances.  The court looked at the facts of this case, the existence of an agreement in which the donor stated that he would not seek paternity, and the lack of a significant relationship between the donor and the child after the child’s birth. 

To determine whether the presumption of parentage that the court established for the non-birth mother could be rebutted, they applied the concept of “equitable estoppel,” which bars a legal claim by a party if that claim is inconsistent with a prior position taken by them and relied upon by the other party.  In this case, the prior position was outlined in the known donor agreement he signed with the mothers, that he would not attempt to establish paternity,  and his lack of a relationship with the child after her birth.  Equitable estoppel prevented the known donor from proving to the court that the paternity testing was in the best interest of the child.

What does this case mean for Known Donor Family Law New York? 

This case is certainly a step in the right direction.  But these cases are fact specific and unless there is a legal instrument, such as a step or second parent adoption order, the possibility of taking a party to court will always be a financially and emotionally time-consuming specter over a family.  Another benefit of a step or second parent adoption is that is clearly and indisputably terminates the rights of a known donor, making a claim such as the one made by the donor in this case, a nullity.

Known Donor Family Law New York is moving in the right direction.  If you are considering a known donor, you must also consider how best to secure your family from unwanted paternity or visitation suits.  For answers to your questions, please contact Anthony M. Brown at anthony@timeforfamilies.com or visit www.timeforfamilies.com.

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Lesbian Moms Give Tips on Picking a Donor

Brandy and Susan describe the process of picking a donor and give tips to lesbian moms about known donors vs anonymous as well as things to watch out for.

The Next Family is a diverse community where modern families meet. It is the start of an on-going, open-minded and sincere dialog between urbanite families, adoptive families, in vitro parents, interracial families, same sex parents, lesbian moms, gay dads, single parents and so on. It is a way to remind people that the Next Generation of families already exists in larger numbers than the old model of a “family unit”.

 

Click here for more information on your path to parenthood.

Anonymous Sperm Donors threatened by growth of genetic testing

The rise of personal genetic testing and growth of international DNA databases could put an end to anonymous sperm donors and anonymous egg donation as donor-conceived individuals may unintentionally discover biological relatives, according to UCL researchers.

 

The paper, published today in the journal Human Reproduction, reinforces the need for parents using  anonymous sperm donors and anonymous egg donors to be fully informed that their children’s DNA will identify that they are not the and that they should be encouraged to disclose their use of . Anonymous sperm donors should also be informed that their anonymity is not guaranteed, irrespective of whether they are donating in a country that practises anonymous donation or not.

Over 3 million people have already used direct-to-consumer genetic testing, often via online companies without the input of healthcare professionals, to find out information about their ancestry and health and many are participating in international genetic genealogy databases that will match them with relatives.Surrogacy Abroad

Professor Joyce Harper (UCL Institute of Women’s Health) explained: “DNA tests are increasingly being used to solve unknown parentage cases for adoptees and donor-conceived persons. People are finding half-siblings and even biological parents in online databases that are open to the public. A sperm donor does not have to be in the database to be identified as identification can be made from matches with other close relatives such as second or third cousins.”

Using these genetic databases, donor-conceived adults who have not been informed of their status may find out that they are donor-conceived, which may lead to traumatic breakdown of trust with parents.”

Recently, there has been a concerted effort within the scientific community and more widely to foster greater openness about genomic data. These developments indicate that many more healthcare clients are going to know information about their genomes in the future. The situation is further complicated by the fact that different countries, even with the EU, have different laws surrounding gamete donation, donor anonymity and parental disclosure.

by Rowan Walker, MedicalExpress.com, April 14, 2106

Click here to read the entire article.

Adoption For Gay Couples is Still the Best Answer – The Message of Matter of Kelly S. v. Farah M.

Does this case render adoption for gay couples as unnecessary or is it simply an affirmation of another state’s more progressive parentage laws?

There has never been a stronger case for adoption for gay couples than Matter of Kelly S. v. Farah M.  I reported this week about a case out of the Second Department Appellate Division in New York affirming a Suffolk County Family Court decision granting visitation to a non-biological lesbian mother. At first glance, this appears to create new law in New York, doing away with previous NY law holding that a non-biological mother does not have standing to seek custody or visitation.  But on further inspection, its true message is that the only way to avoid costly and bitter court battles is through adoption for gay couples.

adoption for gay couples

Facts of the case – Kelly Steagall and Farah Martin met and entered into a relationship in 2000 and became registered domestic partners in California in 2004. They were legally married there in 2008.  Ms. Martin conceived two children through artificial insemination who were born in March of 2007 and April of 2009.  The couple used the same known donor for each child and, instead of using a doctor or fertility clinic to assist with the insemination, they privately inseminated at home.  After moving to New York in 2012, the couple separated in 2013 and Kelly moved to Arizona.  Kelly filed a visitation petition in Suffolk County New York in 2014.

Ms. Martin objected to Ms. Steagall’s status as a legal parent stating that New York law did not support her position and, in what the court saw a self-serving move, sued the known donor to establish that he was the other “true” parent.

What the court said – Appellate division Judge Roman, in her affirmation of the lower Family Court’s ruling, stated that because the couple was in a registered domestic partnership and subsequent marriage in California when the children were born, California law, which is far more progressive that New York family law, should govern and therefore, Ms. Steagall’s parentage could be recognized under California law.

New York Law – In New York County, Surrogate Judge Kristin Booth Glen, in a case entitled In the Matter of Sebastian, discusses the issue of establishing parental rights for a non-biological parent specifically.  The case involves married lesbian couple who used an anonymous sperm donor to have a child. Glen concludes, when discussing the non-biological mother’s relationship with the child that, “the only remedy available here that would accord the parties full and unassailable protection is a second-parent adoption pursuant to New York Domestic Relations Law (“DRL”) § 111 et seq.”  Glen further states, “that a judicial order of adoption in one state must be afforded full faith and credit in every state, and that there can be no “public Policy” exception to that mandatory recognition…”.

This case essentially relies on a marital presumption of parentage. In California, a registered domestic partnership at the time was viewed for all intents and purposes as a marriage.  While it is true that many states have what is called a “martial presumption of parentage,” it is applied differently in different states.  In New York State, there is specific case law that holds that the marital presumption of parentage does not apply to same-sex couples.  That case is called “Matter of Paczkowski v. Paczkowski.”  In that case, the appellate division of the Second Department of New York, the same court that decided the Matter of Kelly S. v. Farah M., held that the “presumption of legitimacy… is one of a biological relationship, not a legal status.”

In essence, the court says that a marriage does not create a legal right between a non-biological parent and a child.  While it may be an indication of intent to be a parent, as would a non-biological parent’s name on a birth certificate, the only way to actually create the legal relationship that guarantees the security that all same-sex families need, is through adoption for gay couples, and in some states, a parentage order.  Unfortunately, New York currently does not have the capacity to issue a parentage order but there is legislation in committee in Albany that may change that.

How does this case affect Gay couples? – The take away from this case may not be what many of us in the LGBT legal community want, particularly in New York. While the language in the decision is expansive and is certainly heading in the right direction, it does not change the law in New York.  Had Kelly Steagall and Farah Martin lived in New York, conceived and gave birth to their children in New York, the outcome of this case could have been vastly different and Kelly Steagall would still, under current New York law, have had to fight in the courts for visitation to the children she had helped to raise since their birth.  No one factors into their family equation to emotional and financial costs of fighting to see the children to whom they area  parent, nor should they.  But the reality of the situation is much more nuanced.  If you are a New York resident, second or step parent adoption for gay couples is the best and only way to ensure that the emotional and financial costs of litigation can be avoided.

Anthony M. Brown, head of Nontraditional Family and Estates division of Albert W. Chianese & Associations, has extensive experience in helping same-sex couples through the adoption process, having gone through the process himself. If you have yet to create a legal relationship with your child or children, call 212-953-6447 or email Anthony at Anthony@timeforfamilies.com.

Gay Family Planning: Options For Your Family

For thousands of New York couples each year gay family planning is a daunting and intricate process. If you are part of a same sex couple, there are extra complications as you must decide what route to go down in order to have or adopt a child.

Gay family planning options include adoption, a surrogate NYC carrier, pregnancy by donated sperm, or IVF. Here we cover the basics for each of these options to help you consider the right option for your family:

Adoption

There are over 130 adoption agencies in New York State, and each of the 58 social services unit districts has an adoption unit. There are no fees for adopting children who have special needs or are in custody of the local social services commissioner, although there may be fees for adopting those children in the legal guardianship of local voluntary agencies. The fees are based on the adoptive family’s income, however, and help may be available in the form of grants or fee waivers, so don’t let finances put you off from looking into this as an option to start your family.

gay adoption

After deciding on an agency, the application forms must be completed. Information is taken about your current family, your background and the type of child you feel you would be able to give the best life to. Criminal history checks will also be made, with particular attention paid to whether someone in the prospective adoptive family’s home has previous mistreated or neglected a child. A criminal record does not necessarily mean that you will be refused for adoption, as it depends on several factors including the type of crime committed.

Within four months of submitting the application, a home study is started and carried out on the prospective adoptive family. This is a series of meetings, training sessions and interviews that enables the family and social services to ascertain the readiness of the family to adopt, and any issues that they may need help with. After the home study has been completed the caseworker writes a summary about the family, which the adoptive couple can also add comments to. Training is also required to cover some areas that are specific to adoptive parenting, such as the needs of foster children and what kind of child they would be most suited to as a parent.

Once the study and summary are complete, the work then begins to match the family with a child. There is no set process for this as it is individual according to the child’s situation and needs. The Family Adoption Registry provides information about waiting children, and adoptive parents can ask for more information about children they are interested in, in exchange for a copy of the home study. The process goes from there and hopefully ends with a child or children finding a loving home with their new parents!

Pregnancy via sperm donor

Lesbian couples have many options in their own gay family planning. Sperm donors may be someone known to the couple or, alternatively, screened samples from a sperm bank. Donors can be anonymous or known, and even with anonymous donors there is usually information available about the donor’s height, hair colour, eye colour, education level and nationality. Ensuring that you use an approved fertility clinic is essential in order to avoid potential diseases that can be transferred through sperm. If you are using a known donor, insist on having him medically pre-screened before insemination and it is a very good idea to consult with an attorney familiar with known sperm donation.

Traditional Surrogate

gay surrogacy

Traditional surrogacy involves the sperm of the intended ‘adoptive’ parent fertilizing the egg of the traditional surrogate, so the child will be biologically related to both parties. Surrogacy contracts in NYC are not legally binding as they are declared ‘contrary to public policy’. This means that you cannot pay someone to carry a baby for you, or create a contract that mandates that the traditional surrogate mother has to give the child to the intended parents, (IPs) upon delivery. Surrogates, whether traditional or gestational, cannot accept money apart from expenses and medical fees directly related to the pregnancy, and heavy fines are levied for anyone involved in a surrogacy agreement – $500 for those involved and up to $10,000 for anyone found to be arranging such contracts (which are void and unenforceable in NYC).

Despite this, surrogacy has continued to be a pathway to family life that many gay male couples choose to take, and there are agencies that help to match potential parents with potential surrogates who live in other, surrogacy-friendly States. When needed, New Yorkers are able to complete second or step parent adoptions in New York to finalize parental rights for a child that has been delivered through a surrogate from another State.

Gestational Surrogate

The difference between gestational and traditional surrogacy is that the baby resulting from gestational surrogacy is not related to the surrogate mother. An egg and sperm create an embryo which is then transferred to the surrogate via IVF. For a male same sex couple, both partners can contribute sperm so that each have an equal chance of being biologically related to the child; they would also need a female third party to donate the egg.

Having the options of different pathways for gay family planning (adoption, surrogacy or pregnancy via donor sperm) can be reassuring to a couple looking to have children, but it can also be overwhelming when trying to decide what is best for you. For a reputable and trustworthy attorney in New York who specializes in helping same sex couples have families, call Anthony M. Brown, head of Nontraditional Family and Estates division of Albert W. Chianese & Associations, at 212-953-6447 or email questions to Brown@awclawyer.com.

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The Family I Never Thought I’d Have

By Anthony M. Brown – November 21, 2015

What is it about families?   Wars have been fought over them. History has been made because of them. Comedians and therapists have made millions talking about them. But when it all boils down, family makes us who we are, whether standing with them or running from them.

familyMy husband Gary’s blind Aunt Elda died about 5 years ago. We got her cancer diagnosis a year or so  before her death, and it took a while for it to hit home that there was no successful treatment for her ovarian/GI cancer. She had lived outside Gary’s family for many years, in large part due to her husband Chuck. Chuck was perhaps the most prejudiced, bigoted, intolerant man I had ever met. His willingness to make racist or homophobic statements in my husband’s and my presence was almost as strong as his love for Elda. But he physically removed Elda from the family by moving out of state and at one point actually said to her, “you better hope you die first because your family will never be there for you.” Chuck died first.  And we were there for her.

In the perfect ironic twist, Chuck’s mentor and most respected business manager, a man named Ralph Thomas, was also my father’s best friend. He cringed when I would talk about Ralph and his wife in very personal terms as I saw them often before my father died. On Uncle Chuck’s deathbed, everything changed.

Chuck had suffered a series of strokes, the last one leaving him unable to communicate. Gary and I were visiting him in the hospital when I noticed that he was agitated. I knew from my father’s deathbed experience how to shift a person up in the bed by lifting the small blanket placed under the patient and on top of the bed linens. I asked Chuck if he wanted to move up. He blinked his eyes rapidly. Gary and I lifted the blanket, and Chuck, successfully up in the bed. As our eyes met, I could swear I saw him crying and with that, a world of misunderstanding and homophobia flew right out the hospital window.

I don’t know what chuck would have made of the fact that I am a donor dad and have two beautiful little girls with two wonderful women who are their parents or that my husband and I have a son  who has a surrogate mom, but both my family and Gary’s family get it.  And it couldn’t have happened at a better time.

Gary’s father throughout this time had been enduring a prolonged battle with Parkinson’s disease, which, toward the end of his life, left him mentally aware, yet unable to communicate. If he could have, he would have probably yelled. Italians yell, that’s just the way it is. It took me, a southern WASP, years of therapy to realize that Gary’s screaming had more to do with his heritage than anything I may have done. He learned that from his parents. And while they didn’t really communicate, they yelled, A LOT.

Even with the Parkinson’s, Gary’s parents yelled at each other. It used to bother me, but now I get it. While home over one weekend fairly close to may father-in-law’s death, we watched the ultimate tearjerker movie, The Notebook, based on the novel by Nicholas Sparks. It tells the tale of a man who reads a handwritten story to a woman in a nursing home everyday until she realizes, through her dementia, that it is their love story. For a few minutes, she remembers, then he is a stranger again.

At the conclusion of the movie, Gary’s mom was sitting in Gary’s lap, both crying, and I was holding my father-in-law’s hand, also crying. Tears everywhere. Gary’s parents hugged each other and, in a moment that I will remember for the rest of my life, Gary’s dad, who had not been able to communicate clearly for months,  looked at his wife of over 60 years and said, “I didn’t know that this was what you’ve been dealing with.   I am sorry.” In that amazing, crystalline moment – we all lost it. Gary’s mom replied that she loved him and that she wanted to take care of him. Gary and I hugged while this exchange occurred knowing that a gift had just been given to everyone in that room.

Enter Michael, Gary’s older brother, who had been watching this whole emotional experience transpire with his then girlfriend, now wife, Xiao from the other room. Xiao is Chinese and had never met a gay person, much less a gay couple, before dating Michael. They had only been dating for a few months when this happened. Michael told me that Xiao had also seen the hug–fest and asked, “How long have Tony and Gary been together?” Michael replied, “almost 20 years.” Xiao said, “Do you think we will be like that in 20 years?” Michael said, “I hope so.”

Regardless what people think about their in-laws, there are lessons to be learned from them, joys and sorrows to be experienced because of them. These are the things that only a family can provide and while many on the less tolerant side of the aisle would either discount or misunderstand my family, no one can change the fact that I am married to a man and that I married into a family that loves and respects both me and my husband. I have children that will learn their values from this amazing family and my children will continue to teach me theirs.  It doesn’t get much better than that.

 

 

Anthony M. Brown currently heads the Nontraditional Family and Estates Law division of the law firm of Albert W. Chianese & Associates, PC, specializing in estate planning and second and step-parent adoptions. Anthony is the Board Chariman of Men Having Babies, and is the Executive Director of The Wedding Party.  He can be reached at: Anthony@timeforfamilies.com.

 

About MHB

Men Having Babies, Inc. is a nonprofit organization that was spun off in July 2012 from a program that ran at the NYC LGBT Center since 2005. It started as a peer support network for biological gay fathers and fathers-to-be, offering monthly workshops and an annual seminar. Over time, elaborate online resources were developed, the group’s mailing list expanded to about 2000 couples and singles from around the world, and it teamed up with LGBT family associations to develop similar programs in Chicago, San Francisco, LA, Barcelona, Tel Aviv and Brussels.

 

Our mission includes:

  • The provision of educational and practical information to assist gay prospective parents achieve biological parenting.
  • Promoting the affordability of surrogacy related services for gay men through financial assistance and the encouragement of transparency and customer feedback.
  • Promoting surrogacy practices that minimize the risks and maximize the potential short and long-term benefits to all involved.
  • Raising awareness about the potential benefits and meaningful relationships surrogacy arrangements can bring about.

 

Beyond the seminars and workshops, Men Having Babies runs several programs to promote its educational, advocacy and affordability mission, including:

Assistance in academic studies about gay parenting and surrogacy.

Step Parent Adoption; Married still need one?

Step Parent Adoption; Marriage means I don’t need one?

Step Parent adoption is still a must to secure your family, even after marriage equality.  Marriage equality was a long fought battle and a much celebrated victory for gay and lesbian couples across the country. Now that it is the law of the land, many people mistakenly believe that their marriage alone will secure their family. Unfortunately family law has not caught up to the realities of how we create our modern families.

For both gay and lesbian couples, securing the legal rights of a non-biological parent is crucial to create the kind of emotional, and legal, security that most other families take for granted. The legality of both parents relationship to their child is often assumed. Parents are parents, regardless of the biological connection to your child. In New York State, the law doesn’t agree.

Married lesbian couples in many states, New York included, can list a non-biological mother name as a parent on a child’s birth certificate if they are married at the time of the birth of the child and they use an anonymous sperm donor. While a name on a birth certificate is an important goal, it in itself does not create a legal relationship, only through step parent adoption can they be acheived.

Step Parent adoption is still a must to secure your family, even after marriage equality.

In New York County, Surrogate Judge Kristin Booth Glen, in a case entitled In the Matter of Sebastian, discusses the issue of establishing parental rights for a non-biological parent specifically.  The case involves married lesbian couple who used an anonymous sperm donor to have a child. Glen concludes, when discussing the non-biological mother’s relationship with the child that, “the only remedy available here that would accord the parties full and unassailable protection is a second-parent adoption pursuant to New York Domestic Relations Law (“DRL”) § 111 et seq.”  Glen further states, “that a judicial order of adoption in one state must be afforded full faith and credit in every state, and that there can be no “public Policy” exception to that mandatory recognition…”.

While it is true that many states have what is called a “martial presumption of parentage,” the truth about this is that it is applied differently in different states.  For instance, in New York State, where I practice, there is specific case law that holds that the marital presumption of parentage does not apply to same-sex couples.  That case is called “Matter of Paczkowski v. Paczkowski.”  In that case, the appellate division of the Second Department of New York, the state’s intermediate appellate court, held that the “presumption of legitimacy… is one of a biological relationship, not a legal status.”

In essence, the court says that a marriage does not create a legal right between a non-biological parent and a child.  While it may be an indication of intent to be a parent, as would a non-biological parent’s name on a birth certificate, the only way to actually create the legal relationship that guarantees the security that all same-sex families need, is through an adoption order, and in some states, a parentage order.  Unfortunately, New York currently does not have the capacity to issue a parentage order but there is legislation in committee in Albany that may change that. 

Surrogate Options & Known Donors Complicate the Legalities of Chosen Families

One further compounding variable is that many lesbian couples are now choosing known sperm donors. While the desire for a child to know their biological heritage and have a father figure makes sense to many couples, adding another potential parent into the mix can create problems if an adoption does not take place to terminate the donor’s rights to the child and create the intended, non-biological parent’s rights to their child.

For male couples who want to have biologically related children, surrogacy is the only real option. Surrogacy is an emotionally, and financially, exhausting process.  It is a true leap of faith.  Couples considering surrogacy must juggle a myriad of concerns, the least of which being the cost.  With gestational surrogacy tabs running as high as $180,000.00, budgeting is a must.  Lawyer’s fees are often lumped together in surrogacy accounting statements, and some agencies do not include the cost of a second or step parent adoption in order to keep the numbers low.  Often, the cost of a pre-birth order is less than a second parent adoption.

step parents adoption, step parent adoption, adoption step parent, adoption for step parents

In some cases, depending on where your surrogate mother gives birth, her name may be removed from the child’s original birth certificate by a proceeding called a pre-birth order.  Some states do not provide for pre-birth orders.  Those that do may or may not replace the surrogate’s name with that of the non-biological intended parent.  California, for instance, does offer the ability to include the non-biological parent’s name on the child’s original birth certificate, and that very significant step is often mistakenly viewed as a replacement for a second parent adoption, which is the only definitive way to establish parental rights between a non-biological parent and a child born through surrogacy.

In order to understand why a second parent adoption is vital if you have a pre or post-birth (or parentage) order, you must understand what that order is, and what protections it provides.  Pre and post-birth orders are court orders that are obtained by filing a petition in the appropriate court in the state in which the child will be born.  Often, these petitions are not filed in the county where the carrier lives, but in a county which has a judge who understands the importance of these orders and grants them upon the motion of an attorney representing the intended parents.  This in itself may create a problem.

Some states may not recognize the relationship created by the pre-birth order because of the lack of a full judicial process attendant to a parentage order.  For an issue to be precluded from challenge, for instance the issue of a non-biological parent’s relationship to a child born through surrogacy, the court looks at the process by which that issue has been established.  The reason why adoption orders from one state are valid in every state, regardless of the gender of the parents, is because the judicial process of the adoption.  The state, for all intents and purposes, becomes and “adversary” to the adoptive parents in the adoption process.  The state performs background checks, it orders that fingerprints be taken, mandates that a home study is performed by a licensed social worker to ensure that the child’s prospective residence is safe and clean and essentially verifies all adoption requirements submitted by the petitioning parent, or parents.  The adoption order is the product of a fully litigated judicial process.  Because this rigorous process is not part of a parentage order proceeding, states which do not offer such orders may not recognize a relationship created in one.

Furthermore, some courts, through a parentage order, will add the name of the non-biological parent to the original birth certificate if that person is married to the biological parent.  For same-sex couples, this can present an issue, particularly if the non-biological parent’s relationship to the child is being challenged in a state that resists same-sex marriage.  These situations usually arise upon the dissolution of a relationship and during the custody/visitation/support aspect of that process.

Protecting our families may seem like navigating a ship through a sea of legal, financial and emotional waters.  But what is more important than the security of knowing that every child has a legal relationship with their parents that cannot be challenged for whatever reason. Every parent deserves that security as well.

by Anthony M. Brown – September 16, 2015

Anthony M. Brown, Esq. currently is an associate with the law firm of Albert W. Chianese & Associates heading their Nontraditional Family and Estates Law division serving unmarried individuals, couples and families in Manhattan and on Long Island.  Anthony is the Executive Director of The Wedding Party and has been a Board member since its inception in 1999.   The Wedding Party is a non-profit educational organization that educates the public about marriage and its importance to all citizens through outreach programs and strategic media placement. Anthony is the founder of TimeForFamilies.com, a web environment dedicated to assisting gay and lesbian couples create their own families. Anthony is the Board Chairman of Men Having Babies, a non-profit organization created to assist gay men looking create families through surrogate options and is a legal consultant for Family By Design, a co-parenting information and matching website.

 

 

Known Donor Dad Perspective

As a known donor Dad, my daughters have 2 moms and 2 dads – how does this work?

My family can best be described as a forest. When my daughter created her “Family Tree” for a class project, there were so many branches that it covered an entire poster board. My heart soared. I am lucky enough to be called “papa” by three amazing kids. My son, 4 years old, is the biological child of my husband who we had with the help of a gestational surrogate. I adopted him and he lives with my husband and me. My daughters are 8 and 3 and they live with their mothers, who happen to live in our neighborhood in Manhattan.

ivf, known donor, sperm donor, anonymous donorI call them my daughters because I am their biological father through sperm donation, but the truth is that I am not their parent. This is a critical distinction that any donor dad must make. I am not a co-parent with my daughters’ mothers. But that doesn’t mean that I do not have a meaningful and reciprocally fulfilling relationship with them, it just means that the major life decisions that relate to my girls are made by their mothers, the two amazing women who taught me how to be a dad.

To highlight the enormity of this journey for me, I need to give you some background. In the 70’s as a closeted teenager and in the 80’s as a closeted young man in my 20’s, if you had told that one day I would have three children, I would have felt relief and seen it as affirmation that I could change my orientation. I desperately didn’t want to be gay and after running from my true self for what seemed to me to be ages; I did what many young people who grew up in my era did: I tried to end my life. My parents walked me around the back yard of our house for hours attempting to allow the effects of the pills I had taken to wear off. I am thankful every day that they did.

That moment changed my life because, with a lot of help from a lot of people, I learned that I could be a happy gay person. Once that switch was flipped, life turned on. My family is the culmination of that awareness and of so much love. But that love had to start with me. I don’t think anyone who doesn’t truly love themselves could be a donor dad. It requires patience, responsibility and, most of all, faith. I had to have faith that my daughter’s moms would allow me to have a relationship with them. They also had to have faith that I would be a man of my word and surrender my parental rights to the non-biological mother. We all had to have faith that we would be able to conquer whatever parenting trials would come our way.

But that faith is constantly tested. When my first daughter was born, my husband and I would babysit for her about once every other week and, once she was old enough, we would have sleepovers roughly once a month. I remember one time right after the adoption hearing had taken place where I formally surrendered my parental rights getting a call from one of her mothers after we returned her from a sleepover night. She was asking about a small burn mark on my daughter’s leg. Neither my husband or I could remember anything that could have caused it. But then remembered one moment when we were all in our tiny NYC kitchen and I was holding her when I turned and brushed up against an open toaster oven door. I didn’t think it had touched her. She didn’t cry and I didn’t think anything of it at the time. But when I realized that I had done this, I was so scared that my husband and I wouldn’t be allowed to see her again. I had hurt my own child! I went through a very short lived freak out until we actually talked to her moms again and they told us of how she had fallen off the changing table, a couple of times, and that I shouldn’t worry.

It is moments like that one when you truly understand perspective. But the one person’s perspective that really was tested by my being a donor dad was my husband’s. He often considered himself the odd man out. While I was busy going to clinics and running out of events because “mom was ovulating,” he was often left alone and feeling out of touch with the whole process. If I could have done anything differently, I would have made sure that he was more involved and included him more in the process. The reality, now that the kids are older, is that all three of them refer to my husband as “daddy” and to me as “papa.” When asked, they are the first to tell you that they have “two mommies and two daddies.” This, to me, is one of the coolest things ever.

Because we are honest with all three kids about where they come from, they feel special. They understand that their mommies and daddies loved them so much that they worked together to make our family a reality. If I can offer any new perspective on being a donor dad, it is that anything is possible with honesty, careful preparation and love. You can have the family of your dreams, no matter what it looks like.

June 2, 2014 – by Anthony M. Brown

Thanks to Our family Coalition in San Francisco for asking me to write this piece!