Family Law Unraveled

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Afternoon at the Movies

Friday, July 30, 2010

Some law firms go on summer outings to the Phillies. Some have barbecues or picnics. We closed the office early yesterday and took a field trip to the movies. We went to see The Kids Are All Right – a fabulous and funny drama about married lesbian moms, their two teenage kids, and the introduction of the man who was their sperm donor into their lives. Fun you might say? This was work! We should have gotten Continuing Legal Education credits for the afternoon! And when Julianne Moore stood in front of her family at the end and made a speech about what hard work marriage is – which made most if not all of us tear up – we should be posting that on our website!

Our lawyers and non-lawyer staff alike love this stuff. That’s why we practice family law. We have lots of LGBT clients. We believe in the power of families – all kinds. What this film illustrates is how all families are fundamentally the same, even ones formed in non-traditional ways. In the film, the teenage children contact their biological father – their sperm donor – who ends up quickly forming relationships with the kids and the moms, in ways both positive and negative. This is a big issue for kids conceived by donor insemination, very similar to kids who are adopted: who is the person who genetically created them? Do they want to meet that person? Will it hurt the feelings of the parents who raised them if they do? Will they be disappointed? Will the donor view them as sons and daughters or as something less than that? Most fundamentally: who are their parents?

I recently drafted a sperm donor contract for a lesbian couple who are planning to have a child with a donor they know – a relative of the woman who is not going to be the biological mother of the child. That way, the child will have a genetic relationship to both moms. This has both great advantages and great risks. The point of the contract was to spell out everyone’s expectations clearly: that the non-biological mom would adopt the child so the two women would be the legal parents, that the donor was not going have any custody rights or any support obligations. What about disclosure to the kid? Should they tell him his mom’s relative is his bio dad? Who should get to make that decision? Who should get to veto it? There were many issues to think through and discuss. The law in Pennsylvania is uncertain so there is no guaranteed protection for the donor from being hit up for child support or for the moms from being made to share custody. But this may change – as a policy matter, there are many reasons some lesbian couples prefer a known donor. They want to know medical history, they want to actually know the person who is contributing half their child’s DNA, and, in some cases, they want that man to be more than a sperm donor, they want him to play a role in the child’s life, which they see as a positive addition to the family they are creating, not a threat to it.

Families are changing fast and our job as family lawyers is to stay ahead of the curve. It’s great to have Hollywood helping us.

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