Rights of non-traditional parents

Filed under: Just For Dads, Divorce & Custody, Gay Parenting, In The News, Sex

Non-traditional couples who want to have children have many options. Adoption and artificial insemination are two well known choices. Both of these choices can be expensive. If a couple chooses the sperm donor route, is it a better choice to use an anonymous donor or someone they know?

Four years ago, Tamila Payne and Jennie Ferguson, a lesbian couple living in Texas, wanted to start a family. They approached Ferguson's uncle, Mark Lee, to be a sperm donor for Payne. The situation seemed ideal for the couple, because the baby would have genetic ties to both women. The women also felt like this would avoid the high costs associated with using a sperm bank and the attorney's fees incurred during artificial insemination.

The couple did not consult an attorney, and Payne actually impregnated herself with a syringe at home. In 2004, Payne gave birth to their son, Noah. Mark Lee was even listed on Noah's birth certificate as his father and resided with the couple for awhile in their home.

What seemed like a perfect plan for this family has turned into a legal nightmare. The couple's relationship ended, and Noah continued to live with his biological mother, Tamila Payne. Noah spent weekends with Lee and Ferguson until he began refusing to go and becoming more and more upset with the visitation arrangement.

Lee is now suing Payne for custody of Noah. Because he was listed as the child's father on the birth certificate, it appears that he has different rights than an ordinary sperm donor. Additionally, he has been a part of Noah's life since birth. What is worse is that Ferguson has no legal rights whatsoever, because no legal agreement ever existed between the parties that outlined everyone's role in Noah's life.

The case seems to get more complicated. The court assigned an amicus attorney to assist the court in protecting the child's best interests. This attorney has recommended that Lee be given primary custody of Noah, with Payne having visitation for one weekend a month.

I am conflicted about the facts of this case. First, how in the world did this turn into a mother getting visitation only once a month? Additionally, should Lee be given the same consideration under the law as a traditional father? He is, by all definitions, the child's father, both legally and physically. Third, is it really fair to Ferguson that she has no rights whatsoever because no piece of paper exists that identifies her legal relationship to Noah?

Unfortunately, this family's choice, made in an attempt to save money and do what they felt was best for their family, has proven to cost considerably more than they ever could have anticipated. The court system is supposed to consider what is in the best interest of the child. In such a complicated situation, what is truly in Noah's best interest? Will he be able to continue his relationship with all of the people who came together to give him life? Is there really an outcome to this situation that works best for everyone, especially Noah?


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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.