A man who donated sperm for a lesbian couple's two children must pay support, the state Superior Court ordered in a ruling that legal experts are calling a precedent.
In reaching the decision, the three-judge panel said that since Carl L. Frampton Jr., who died while the case was pending, had involved himself as a stepparent, he assumed some of the parenting duties.
Legal experts say the ruling is unique in making more than two people responsible for a child. It also brings into question when a sperm donor is liable for support, though at least one expert said the ruling shouldn't worry truly anonymous donors.
Senior Judge John T.K. Kelly wrote in the April 30 ruling that Frampton had held himself out as a stepparent to the children by being present at the birth of one of them, contributing more than $13,000 during the last four years, buying them toys, and having borrowed money to obtain a vehicle in which to transport the children.
"While these contributions have been voluntary, they evidence a settled intention to demonstrate parental involvement far beyond merely biological," the judge wrote.
Robert Rains, who teaches family law at Penn State Dickinson School of Law in Carlisle and is a co-director of the school's family law clinic, said the decision should not intimidate men who contribute to sperm banks.
"This should be entirely different from a guy who goes to a sperm bank and makes a donation with the understanding that he will remain anonymous," Rains said.
But a court essentially recognizing three parents?
"I'm unaware of any other state appellate court that has found that a child has, simultaneously, three adults who are financially obligated to the child's support and are also entitled to visitation," said New York Law School professor Arthur S. Leonard, an expert on sexuality and the law.
Jodilynn Jacob, 33, and Jennifer Lee Shultz-Jacob, 48, moved in together in 1996 and were granted a civil-union license in Vermont in 2002. In addition to conceiving the two children with the help of Frampton, a longtime friend of Shultz-Jacob's, Jacob adopted her brother's two older children, now 13 and 12.
But the women's relationship fell apart, and Jacob and the children moved out of their Dillsburg home in February 2006.
Shortly afterward, a court awarded Jacob, who now lives in Harrisburg, about $1,000 a month in support from Shultz-Jacob. Shultz-Jacob later lost an effort to have the court force Frampton to contribute support -- a decision the Superior Court decision overturned.
Frampton, 60, of Indiana, Pa., died of a stroke in March.
"I just think that if three people are saying they're all parents of the kids, the responsibility should be shared by the three, and that's what everybody was saying," Shultz-Jacob said yesterday.
"I think there's probably more families out there like ours," she said.
"I think it's an interesting area of the law that we're probably going to see more of. The families are becoming more and more complex, and our courts rightfully or wrongfully are going to have to deal with these types of situations," said Heather Z. Reynosa, Shultz-Jacob's attorney.
As part of the Superior Court order, a Dauphin County judge was directed to establish how much Frampton would have to pay Jacob.
Reynosa, wants Frampton's support obligation, which might have to come from his Social Security survivor benefits, to be made retroactive to when Jacob first filed for support. His support payments might also help reduce Shultz-Jacob's monthly obligation.
Lori Andrews, a Chicago-Kent College of Law professor with expertise in reproductive technology, said as many as five people could claim some parental status toward a single child if its conception involved a surrogate mother, an egg donor and a sperm donor.
"The courts are beginning to find increased rights for all the parties involved," she said. "Most states have adoption laws that go dozens of pages, and we see very few laws with a comprehensive approach to reproductive technology."
The state Supreme Court is considering a similar case, in which a sperm donor wants to enforce a promise made by the mother that he would not have to be involved in the child's life. That biological father was ordered to pay $1,520 in monthly support.
About two-thirds of states have adopted versions of the Uniform Parentage Act that shields sperm donors from being forced to assume parenting responsibilities. Pennsylvania has no such law.
I didn't see any topics about this, but I apologize if I missed it.
So, does anyone else think that this ruling could be used to make grandparents, aunts & uncles, cousins, etc. to pay child support simply because they show an interest in the happiness and well being of the child? When does the line between being a kind and caring friend or relative cross into being a step parent?
Does no good deed truly go unpunished?
Something tells me this story ends up with Ballbaggins fucking his house again.