When Is a Sperm Donor a Dad?

A New Mexico court said one sperm donor is liable for child support.


Aug. 4, 2008 — -- Being a sperm donor makes a man a biological father, but it also may make him financially responsible for his offspring, according to a New Mexico Appeals Court that sided with a mother seeking child support from a man with who fathered her two children via artificial insemination.

The ruling comes from a case involving Janna Mintz, who asked her friend Kevin Zoering to donate sperm during the mid-'90s, when she and her then same-sex partner decided they wanted a child.

"At the time I felt like my biological clock was ticking," Mintz said. "I was really interested in him as a father for these children because he was artistic. He's a musician; it seemed like it would be a nice combination of genes."

The pair signed an agreement, which did not ask or require Zoering's financial support. After the birth of Mintz's son, she said Zoering took an active part in the child's life.

"He absolutely loved the child — absolutely was so proud to be a father, proud to have a son. And we have pictures of him just beaming with his son," she said.

In fact, things went so well that Mintz asked Zoering to donate sperm again so that she could have a second child, which resulted in a daughter, and Zoering's personal involvement with the children increased over time.

"Kevin was taking our son a couple of mornings a week, watching him in his home. And I was working part time. And he was really enjoying the time that he spent with his son," Mintz said. "As they got older, we set up a visitation schedule, and the children would go back and forth, and they [sometimes] spent weekends."

But when Zoering began making demands about things like where the children lived, problems developed, according to Mintz. So, in 2000 she tried to clarify Zoering's legal role, which included the question of child support.

What resulted was an eight-year battle for Mintz and the man she said is more than a sperm donor.

"My children think of Kevin as their father and they always have. He's been in their lives since the days that both of them were born. And they call him 'Dad,'" she said. "I think fatherhood and parenthood is about the rights and responsibilities of taking care of children, all the rights and responsibilities."

Mintz decided to ask for child support and was surprised at Zoering's reaction.

"It was shocking to me when his lawyer showed up with arguments that he shouldn't have to pay child support because he was a sperm donor," Mintz said. "It seemed quite preposterous."

"This man isn't a sperm donor, he's a father," she added.

The court's ruling said Zoering is the "father of both children and is subject to pay child support." It added that agreements absolving him of any financial responsibility for either child "are not enforceable and the father must pay."

Now Zoering is required to pay $250 a month in child support.

Zoering, who declined to be interviewed by ABC News, told KOAT in Albuquerque, an ABC News affiliate, that he thought the entire situation revolved around money.

"Technically, it's not supposed to be true, but if you want to see your kids you better pay," he said.

The ruling may have an effect not only on involved sperm donors, but anonymous ones, too.

"If you reach out and try to have a relationship with a child you also might have the obligation that goes with it — with child support. And the courts seem to be trending in that direction as well," said family law professor Jennifer Rosato.

Because even anonymous sperm donors may wind up having to pay, some said it will have a chilling effect on donations.

"There is a pretty good chance that records are going to be unsealed and anonymity is going to yield to the best interest of the child. It may make it less likely that someone's willing to become a sperm donor," said medical ethicist and University of Pennsylvania professor Art Caplan.

ABC News affiliate KOAT contributed to this story.

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