August 16, 2013 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
There’s a bill before the California Legislature that, while its passage won’t shake the earth, still helps to equalize parental rights and highlights much of what is wrong with family law throughout the Western world. Senate Bill 115 would liberalize the way California treats the parental rights of sperm donors. By itself that means the bill will actually apply to a very small percentage of men who father children. So, as far as numbers of fathers go, the bill is not a big deal. Read about it here (San Francisco Chronicle, 8/13/13).
The bill exists at all in large part because of a highly contentious child custody battle between actor Jason Patric and former girlfriend, Danielle Schreiber. They were never married, but she wanted a child whom Patric agreed to father. They required medical assistance to conceive a child, so Patric donated his semen that was then used by a medical clinic to help Schreiber conceive. In due course, their son Gus was born. He’s now three.
The understanding between the two is a bone of contention, but, at least at first, Patric had little to do with his child. Later, as these things have a way of doing, Patric became infatuated with his son and vice versa. Patric decided he wanted to be a hands-on father, but Schreiber said ‘no.’ So Patric went to court to assert his rights as the father of his son, but there he found that California sees him as legally a non-entity.
The law, passed to protect sperm banks, holds that, any time an unmarried couple uses semen deposited by the man for assisted fertilization, he cannot assert parental rights. Such a law may make sense when a woman uses a sperm bank and the father is utterly anonymous. In that case, he has no idea his semen has been used and she has no idea of his identity. California wanted to make sure that, even if he did find out, he couldn’t assert parental rights based solely on his biological connection to the child.
In short, Patric lost his paternity suit because the law that was never meant to deal with a situation like his nevertheless controlled his parental rights. After all, whatever Patric’s initial uncertainties, Gus now knows him as his father, Patric is in fact his father and he’s doing what we claim we want fathers to do — step up. Patric’s and Schreiber’s relationship bore no resemblance to that of an anonymous sperm donor and a woman using the services of a sperm bank.
So State Senator Jerry Hill has introduced S.B. 115. It would allow a biological father in Patric’s situation to assert his rights if he’s “received the child into his home and openly holds the child out as his natural child.” In other words, if he’s the natural father and he’s played an active parental role, he can assert his rights to custody and visitation and pay or receive child support.
Obviously, as with California’s adoption laws that also require some fathers to receive the child into their homes and hold them out as their children, there’s a problem with the proposed bill. How does a man in Patric’s position receive his child into his home if Mom refuses to allow him to do so. If she has custody, how can he perform one of the actions he’s required to in order to prove his mettle as a dad? As is so often the case, the law joyfully places fathers’ rights in mothers’ hands.
But, we should not allow the perfect to become the enemy of the good. And make no mistake, S.B. 115 is an improvement over the status quo.
Carol Chodroff, an attorney who helped draft the legislation, argues it will allow "a small, small class" of men who have been involved in a child’s life and had loving relationships, "to come to court and prove it."
Hill, who has appeared on national shows like "Katie" to argue for the bill, said his bill tries to "bring laws up to modern relationships." In disputed cases like this one, Hill said, "a parenting relationship should be up to a judge to decide – and not one partner."
Aye, there’s the rub. That “one partner” of course is invariably the mother and there are plenty of groups in California for which any improvement in a child’s ability to know, love and form a lasting bond with its father is anathema.
Planned Parenthood of California last week joined California NOW in announcing its opposition to the bill, saying it would "severely compromise the wishes of single women and couples seeking to build a family via sperm donation" because it would allow "any interested party" to seek fathers’ rights "at any point in a child’s life."
That of course is just pure bunk. “Any interested party?” “At any point in a child’s life?” Please. What the bill would allow is for a biological father who’s formed a relationship with his child, to go to court and be adjudicated the child’s father, with all the rights and duties that entails. As seems to be invariably the case, NOW just can’t seem to tell the truth about family law. Even a casual knowledge of the wording of the bill and California family law would tell anyone that NOW’s claims are flat untrue. NOW clearly doesn’t have a good argument against the bill, so, instead of supporting it, it opts for a lousy one.
In so doing, NOW, perhaps inadvertently, shows its hand regarding its antipathy for fathers. That the bill would, to a small degree, cramp the style of single mothers wanting to cut fathers out of children’s lives is true. Indeed, that’s the point. And it’s that that’s got NOW’s knickers in a knot. NOW understands all too well that family law throughout the English-speaking world privileges mothers over fathers. It does so by placing obstacles between fathers and their children that mothers never need encounter. Moreover, it places those obstacles in mothers’ hands.
Claims of domestic violence or child abuse are now routine in family courts and the vast majority are leveled by mothers. Though most are eventually determined to be unfounded, they serve their intended purpose — to shut a father out of his child’s life, at least temporarily. Single mothers have an easier time of it than do married ones, whose husbands have at least nominal power to assert their rights. But essentially all any single mom needs to do is keep Dad in the dark about the existence or whereabouts of his child and she has a good chance of drastically reducing or even eliminating his relationship with him/her. Does she want to place the child for adoption? One or two artful lies will do the trick to cut dad out of the adoption loop. Paternity fraud? With only six exceptions, states give mothers a pass for telling a man he’s the father when he’s not and thereby removing the actual father from the child’s life.
And that’s just the way NOW wants it. All power to mothers when it comes to controlling fathers’ rights is right up NOW’s alley.
Meanwhile, the California Affiliate of the National Parents Organization has thrown its full weight behind S.B 115. As I said, if passed, the bill won’t change the course of Western civilization, but it is a small step in the right direction. Most importantly, it’s a step toward ensuring that children with responsible, loving fathers will get a chance at the love and protection those men offer.
But that’s not all. S.B. 115 also strikes a blow for parental equality. In no case should one parent control the rights of the other parent and the bill allows fathers to rely on the law — not the whims of their one-time partners — to decide their parental rights.
It’s what the National Parents Organization is all about — parental equality. So give a shout out to our affiliate in the Golden State for their staunch support of S.B. 115.
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