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Law School Case Brief

J.F. v. W.M. (In re M.F.) - 938 N.E.2d 1256 (Ind. Ct. App. 2010)

Rule:

Contracts between a sperm donor and a recipient regarding the conception of a child present a different question with respect to contractual viability than a normal contract. Other jurisdictions that have addressed support issues arising from situations involving artificial fertilization have done so via the adoption of statutes based on the Uniform Parentage Act and the Uniform Status of Children of Assisted Conception Act. The majority of states adopting similar legislation hold that the donor of semen provided to a licensed physician for use in the artificial fertilization of a woman, is treated under the law as if he were not the natural parent of the child thereby conceived.

Facts:

J.F., the mother, had previously cohabited and had a long-term relationship with a female life partner. They wanted a child, so W.M., the father, who was a friend of the mother's, provided sperm with which to impregnate the mother. After the child was conceived and prior to birth, the parties signed the sperm donor agreement. The donor agreement stipulated that the mother waived all rights to child support and financial assistance from the donor father. The mother had a second child, C.F., seven years later with the same donor father. After the relationship between the mother and her life partner ended, she sought county financial assistance. A petition to establish the father's paternity was filed by a county prosecutor on behalf of the mother. The trial court denied the petition, finding that the sperm donor agreement was valid and did not contravene sound public policy. Therefore, the trial court held that the mother was prohibited by contract from seeking to establish paternity in father. The mother appealed.

Issue:

Did the trial court err in denying Mother's petition to establish paternity?

Answer:

No, as to the elder child; Yes, as to the younger child

Conclusion:

On appeal, the Court noted that the manner of insemination determined the enforceability of the sperm donor agreement, as insemination via intercourse would render it unenforceable as against public policy. According to the Court, under traditional contract law principles, as the mother sought to avoid the sperm donor agreement, she bore the burden of proving the means of avoidance. The record revealed that she failed to prove that insemination incurred in such a way as to render the sperm donor agreement unenforceable and void. However, based on the language therein, the sperm donor agreement did not apply to the younger child, for whom the father admitted paternity.  Therefore, the trial court erred in holding that a valid, enforceable contract existed that would prohibit an action to establish paternity of C.F. in Father. However, in view of the fact that DNA testing established, and the Father concedes, that he is the biological father of C.F., the appellate court remanded with instructions to grant Mother's petition to establish paternity with respect to C.F. As to the trial court opining that it would consider awarding attorney fees and costs against the State, it did not do so. Because the Father did not request the payment of attorney fees, the appellate court held that the question is moot, and the appellate court will not disturb a lower court's determination where absolutely no change in the status quo will result. 

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