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Thoughts on Jason Patric's Appeal of the Lower Court Decision Denying Him Shared Custody of Gus
A blog by Rhonda Levy, May 8, 2014
Jason Patric's appeal of a lower court decision that denied his bid for shared custody of his four year old son Gus will begin today in a Los Angeles Appellate Court. The case has garnered significant media attention, including last Saturday on the front page of the New York Times in a story with an eye-catching title, "Does 'Sperm Donor' Mean 'Dad'?"
The Agreed Upon Facts
Mr. Patric and Gus' mother, Danielle Schreiber, had ended a decade long romance, when, still friends, they decided to continue their previous efforts to have a child, and turned to a fertility clinic for IVF. Although Mr. Patric signed an "intended parent" form presented to him by the clinic, he and Ms Schreiber did not enter into a written agreement expressly documenting their intentions regarding the legal parentage of a child who might be conceived via the procedure.
The Birth of Gus & Events Thereafter
Their IVF cycle was successful and Gus was born. Unfortunately, Mr. Patric and Ms Schreiber do not now share the same view regarding the role that Mr. Patric is entitled to have in the child's life. She is claiming that he was a sperm donor with no parental rights while he is claiming that it was always intended that he co-parent Gus. In any event, it appears that in the first years of Gus' life Mr. Patric spent time with him, became emotionally invested in him and that Gus felt an attachment to Mr. Patric who he referred to as "Dada".
When the child was approximately three years old, Ms Schreiber began to deny Mr. Patric access to Gus, relying on a statue in California that states that when a man provides sperm to a woman who is not his wife via a licensed physician in a clinical setting, he is treated in law as if he were not the natural father of the child conceived, unless an agreement stating otherwise is entered into by the man and the woman prior to the conception.
The Role of the Fertility Clinic
One has to wonder about the role of the California fertility clinic in which Gus was conceived. In circumstances such as these, where a man and woman are neither married nor living together, fertility clinics generally strongly suggest or require that they seek independent legal counsel and recommend that they memorialize their agreement regarding their respective parental rights and obligations in a legal agreement. Before moving forward with the procedure, fertility clinics also suggest or require that the parties meet with a skilled mental health professional to facilitate their consideration of some of the issues that could arise when a child is brought into the world in this context. An experienced practitioner would strongly recommend that the parties seek independent legal counsel and enter into a written legal agreement. In a report to the clinic, the practitioner would raise a red flag that the parties had not yet done so. Did Mr. Patric and Ms Schreiber go through the IVF process without receiving this advice?
Co-parenting Without Romance
In recent years, society's view of who can be a parent has changed dramatically. A traditional marriage between heterosexuals is no longer expected of people bringing children into the world. Single men and women, and gay men and lesbians, partnered and not, are becoming parents with increasing frequency. In all of these cases, sperm or eggs are required from a third party. Many of these individuals are now turning for eggs and sperm to people who are known to them. Websites and books about co-parenting without romance abound. While untraditional families may once have attracted intolerant stares, it is now those who are intolerant of such "modern" families who are the subject of ridicule. With the proliferation of many new types of families, the potential for disputes such as the one between Mr. Patric and Ms Schreiber will increase.
Responsible Creation of "Modern" Families
It is my hope that professionals who facilitate the creation of these "modern" families will feel obliged to ensure their responsible creation, and strongly discourage verbal agreements. It is tragic when a man who is genetically related to a child and wants desperately to form a deep parental bond with him is denied the right to do so. It is even more heartbreaking when a vulnerable child is denied the opportunity to have a loving and committed father who wants nothing more than to play a significant role in his life. For Gus' sake if for no other, I hope the Los Angeles Appellate Court will find a way to reintroduce Mr. Patric into his life.