With the advancement of technology, the legal sphere has been slower to catch up, but there has been some precedent set to settle disputes that arise.
The recent case of Sieglein v. Schmidt dealt with one such example, recently weighed in on by the Maryland Court of Appeals. The case had to do with establishing paternity when a woman who was married to a man who’d had a vasectomy became pregnant via in vitro fertilization (IVF). This is a type of assisted reproductive technology that involves manually combining the sperm and egg in a laboratory dish and then implanting that embryo into the uterus.
State law provides that when a child is conceived by artificial insemination to a married woman with the consent of her husband, that child is deemed the legitimate child of them both for all purposes. Further, consent of the husband is presumed unless established otherwise.
The father sought to establish that he was not the “father” because the child had no genetic connection to either himself or his wife. He also challenged the court’s interpretation of the legal phrase “voluntary impoverishment.”
According to court records in Sieglein, Husband and Wife were married in 2008. Prior to their marriage, Husband had one biological child, an adult from a previous relationship, as did the wife. She desired another child, but Husband refused to have his vasectomy reversed. However, he did go with her to a reproductive clinic and he also supported the process of obtaining medical assistance to conceive a child. Both parties signed consent forms indicating they approved of IVF treatments, with the documents stating they had been fully advised of IVF’s purpose, risk, and benefits. The records – again, signed by both parties – indicated the decision was made free from pressure or coercion.
Wife gave birth to a son in 2012, with the birth certificate listing both parties as parents.
Shortly after the child was born, the parties separated. Wife filed a complaint for a limited divorce on grounds of “cruelty and vicious conduct” toward her and her children. She requested child support. Husband denied her allegations, and also denied that he was the father of the child.
A circuit judge held a hearing and determined Husband was the legal father of the child and was therefore obligated to pay child support. Although the man brought evidence demonstrating that he didn’t want to be a parent, that does not rebut the presumption of consent to the IVF treatment or consent to create the child. Not only did Husband sign all the IVF treatment forms, he also remained in the marital home with his wife through the pregnancy, and his name is on the birth certificate.
At a subsequent hearing, the wife presented a protective order issued by another court, ordering her husband to cease harassment and contact and also that he stay away from her place of employment. Further, the court determined that the husband, who was unemployed, had “voluntarily impoverished” himself, meaning he was not off the hook for child support payments.
The wife was awarded sole legal and physical custody of the child and Husband was ordered to pay $1,050 in monthly support, plus $7,000 in arrears.
The appeals court, and later the state high court, affirmed the child support amount – finding the father was in fact the legal parent of the child and had chosen not to work in order to avoid paying the boy’s child support payments.
Indiana Family Law Attorney Burton A. Padove handles divorce and child custody matters throughout northern Indiana, including Gary and Hammond. Call Toll Free 877-446-5294.
Sieglein v. Schmidt, May 20, 2016, Maryland Court of Appeals
More Blog Entries:
Luttrell v. Cucco – Same-Sex Couple Cohabitation Affects Spousal Support Payments, May 11, 2016, Indiana Family Law Attorney Blog