Increasingly, people in Arkansas are using non-traditional methods of starting families. As science progresses, sperm donation, in-vitro fertilization and surrogacy are becoming more popular options. However, it is important to remember that many of these options lie in a legal grey area. As such, it is important for parents to take steps to protect their rights as early as possible, ideally before the child is conceived.
A recent Texas case highlights the problems that non-traditional parents may encounter. In that case, a 47-year-old woman went through in-vitro fertilization. She gave birth to twins in July. But now, the biological father has demanded full custody of the young children.
The mother had used donor eggs to get pregnant because she was concerned about birth defects due to her age. The father of the twins was a longtime friend. The mother had expected that the father be a part of the children’s lives, but she believed they were in agreement that she would raise the children on her own.
Then, in August, the father filed a lawsuit to obtain full custody of the children. He claimed that the mother was merely a surrogate. The case is unusual because maternity is usually revealed by DNA or a written contract.
Because the mother did not have a document stating the details of her arrangement with the father, the children’s maternity is in question. The mother is countersuing for child support and custody.
State laws may make it difficult for the mother to win this case. In surrogate situations, the surrogate usually records in writing that she will not be the mother of the baby. The mother’s lawyer plans to argue that in the absence of an agreement, such as a surrogate agreement, the woman who gives birth to a child is the legal mother.
The case brings up interesting questions about what it means to be a mother in the eye of the law. It also serves as an important reminder to anyone considering starting a family in a non-traditional manner. The birth of a child has the potential to quickly change a relationship. No one – not even the best of friends – should ever conceive a child in a non-traditional manner without first consulting with an attorney and getting the agreement in writing.
Source: Houston Chronicle, “Court case may define what a ‘mother’ is,” Brian Rogers, September 21, 2012
To learn more about this issue, please visit our page on non-biological parent rights.