In 2011, the California legislature passed a law that limited the parental rights of fathers as sperm donors in order to provide gay parents with greater legal protection in custody disputes.
California Governor Jerry Brown signed the Protection of Parent Child Relationships Act into law in August 2011. The bill passed the Senate by a 23-14 vote in July of that year. The bill was an effort by California legislators to provide gay parents with greater parental rights by making it more difficult for sperm donors to claim legal parentage.
Before the law went into effect, when a married couple or a couple in a registered domestic partnership had a child, they were deemed to be the child’s presumed legal parents. In addition, a man who believed he was the biological father of a child could sign a voluntary declaration of paternity, with the consent of the biological mother.
A 2009 California Court of Appeals decision held that in a dispute between a presumed father and an individual who had signed a voluntary declaration of paternity, regarding legal parentage, the latter would prevail. This was true even when the presumed father had raised the child since birth and the father who signed the voluntary declaration of paternity had neither an existing relationship with the child nor intended to have a relationship with the child in the future.
The Protection of Parent Child Relationships Act changed the existing law by requiring courts to consider and weigh claims presented by both a presumed parent and an individual who signed a voluntary declaration of paternity when the two parties had competing claims of parentage. In doing so, the legislature adhered to the California Supreme Court’s stance that biology does not override established parental relationships.
A recent case interpreted the law to deny a father parental rights after he had a child with his girlfriend using medical procedures.
In a recent custody dispute between “Lost Boys” actor, Jason Patric and his former girlfriend, the court cited the Protection of Parent Child Relationships Act to deem the mother as the sole parent. The mother used a medical procedure to conceive the child at issue, using Patric’s sperm. As such, the court treated him as a sperm donor and deemed that he could not be considered the child’s father.
Some have criticized the Protection of Parent Child Relationships Act, arguing that it creates a loophole which limits the parental rights of fathers when unmarried couples use medical procedures such as artificial insemination to conceive a child. They state that the Protection of Parent Child Relationships Act has been misinterpreted and does not reflect the modern family construct where an increasing number of unwed couples are choosing to have children, some with the help of fertility treatments.
Senate Bill 115 attempts to close the loophole provide by the Protection of Parent Child Relationships Act, but faces opposition.
In March, Senate Bill 115, which seeks to address this loophole, was introduced to the California Senate. It passed the Senate without a single opposition. However, it has faced controversy at the California Assembly. Some argue that Patric and his former girlfriend, who each hired lobbyists to push their position at the legislative level, should not be allowed to try and circumvent a court ruling in this manner. Others are concerned about how this law would be reconciled with another bill being considered by the legislature, which would allow children to have more than two legal parents. The Assembly’s Judiciary Committee has delayed its hearing on Senate Bill 115 until August.