Fox Family Lawyers
Cynthia Moseley Fox
Attorney at Law
7751 Carondelet Avenue,
Suite 700
Clayton, Missouri 63105
(St. Louis)

Sperm Donors To Unmarried Women Retain Their Parental Rights According To Missouri Law

Last time, we talked about the impending parenthood of Mary Cheney, Vice President Dick Cheney’s lesbian daughter, and Heather Poe, her partner of 15 years. Unknown is whether Mary got pregnant in the anonymity of a fertility clinic or by a male friend she recruited to be their sperm donor.


As I pointed out then, a between-friends arrangement could come back to haunt these and other women in their situation unless they had an agreement, preferably in writing, spelling out to what extent, if any, their donor might be involved in their child’s life.         


Such an agreement is just as much in the interest of any donor/friend.


Consider “R.”, a gay man, who agreed to donate his sperm to a lesbian couple. A pregnancy happened right away, before the three adults had discussed their future relationship, much less put their expectations in writing. R. understood he would have some role in the child’s life, but what kind? The uncertainty caused him years of pain, relieved only after the women broke up and the birth mother began allowing R. regular visits with his biological daughter.  


R., other gay donors and the legal and emotional complexities of their relationships with their children and the children’s mothers were the subjects of “Gay Donor or Gay Dad?” a recent–and fascinating-- New York Times Magazine cover story. 


It recalled for me the case of a Missouri man we’ll call “J.” Like R., he donated sperm to a platonic woman friend we’ll call “B.” At the outset, J.  saw himself as doing little more than helping B. realize her dream of motherhood. He didn’t imagine himself having–or ever wanting-- any relationship with the child.


As soon as B. became pregnant, though, J.’s attitude changed from disinterest to intense feelings of fatherhood and an overwhelming desire to be part of the child’s life. B. allowed that when it suited her, as is typical in paternity situations.  Father and child saw each other frequently enough to have thoroughly bonded when, shortly after the birth, B. was diagnosed with a fatal illness. 


When he learned that B. intended for her out-of-town sister and her boyfriend to raise the child after she died, J. was devastated and sued for paternity. Interestingly, B. didn’t challenge his suit. The court found him to be the father and awarded him custody rights. Since B.’s death, the child has lived exclusively with him. 


The unique facts of this situation are particularly relevant in Missouri in light of our state’s law on artificial insemination. According to the 1987 statute, semen donors are not to be recognized as the father of the child conceived. However, the exclusion applies only to donors that provide their semen to a licensed physician and only for impregnating a married woman other than the donor’s wife.


The statute sheds no light on the parental standing of donors that convey their service without a doctor being involved, or ones that make their donation to an unmarried woman, even when a doctor participates. In those circumstances, J’s case suggests that absent an agreement to the contrary, these donors will be recognized by the Missouri courts as fathers.


Given that, I’m convinced that all parties to these agreements, men and women alike, would do well to heed the advice of my best source of expertise in these matters, Clayton-based family lawyer Allan Stewart: Draw up an agreement, spelling out your intentions and expectations. There’s no guarantee that it will be enforceable, he says, but the trend of courts around the country is to honor them.