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This blog originally appeared in the Huffington Post

The Uniform Parentage Act governs the determination of parentage of children who are born of parents that are not married. The Act, in various forms, is implemented in the majority of states. One provision of the act provides that if a man provides semen to a licensed physician, for the purpose of inseminating an unmarried woman, the man is legally barred from claiming parentage of the child who results therefrom.

The original basis for the law was a means to allow both unmarried women and women who were married to men who were infertile to have children without fear that the sperm donor would eventually claim some right to the child. Years ago this was, and today in certain instances remains, a just result. But times have changed, medicine had changed and fertility treatments have become more accessible. At the same time, the fabric of family life has also changed. The law needs to accommodate that. Recently introduced in the California Legislature is Senate Bill 115, a bill necessary to clarify the state of the law when a man provides sperm to an unmarried partner, which would allow sperm donors to pursue parental rights in certain situations. The bill is intended to allow a limited class of fathers, those who have brought the children into their homes, and held the children out as their own, to obtain parentage rights to those children. The bill is necessary in order to protect those children from losing a relationship with their fathers.

Unmarried parents are commonplace in today’s society. Often times, unmarried individuals, both straight and gay, will choose to have a child or children together. Like many others, these unmarried individuals sometimes have fertility problems and can only have children using Assisted Reproductive Technology. In many situations, these people go into the process with the best of intentions, that being to co-parent the children that result. In some situations they may not have that intention at the time of conception, but, ultimately both consent to participate in the upbringing of the child. In either situation, the child that results has a relationship with the other parent. Without the modification to the law addressed by SB 115, that relationship is not protected. If the mother who gave birth to the child wishes at any time thereafter to exclude the other parent, the law allows that.

Before alarmists contend that this bill might infringe upon the rights of women who choose to have children as single parents, or the rights of lesbian couples who need donated sperm in order to establish a family, there is one thing that needs to be kept in mind. This bill does not throw open the doors to litigation by any and all sperm donors. It specifically addresses only those men who have a relationship with the child. In those situations only, the bill prevents a mother from being able terminate the father-child relationship at her whim if that child was conceived using fertility procedures administered by a licensed physician.

The bill has to be read in conjunction with existing California statutes on parentage. Notably, California Family Code Section 7611 dictates the circumstances under which a man is presumed to be the father of a child. Subsection (d) gives a man who “receives a child into his home and openly holds out the child as his natural child” parentage status. The intent behind this statute is to allow men to establish parentage regardless of biology when it is in the child’s interest to do so because that man has treated the child as his own. Section 7611 does not place any limitation on who it is that may seek such an order. In fact, any man could seek parentage of any child if he can establish that he held the child out and received the child into his home.

Without the passage of SB 115, a conflicting statute, Family Code Section 7613(b), acts to prevent only one specific group of men from being declared the legal father: those that are biological the father of the children. The current state of the law makes an absurdity a reality: if a man donates sperm, and after the fact establishes a relationship with the child with the consent of the child’s mother, that man is precluded from establishing legal parentage of his own child. At the same time, if the mother’s next door neighbor who has no biological connection to the child establishes a relationship with the child and meets the requirements of Section 7611(d), he is permitted to establish legal parentage. This cannot be what the law intends.

The bill reconciles Sections 7611 and 7613 so that they are consistent. It places California in line with the status of the law in other states. For example, in Colorado, the Supreme Court recognized the problem which SB 115 seeks to address when it rendered its opinion in a case known as Interest of R.C. There, unmarried heterosexual individuals conceived a child using fertility treatments. The court recognized that the legislature had “not considered nor intended to affect the rights of known donors who gave semen to unmarried women for use in artificial insemination with the agreement that the donor would be the father of any child so conceived.” The court stated that the father had a right to petition the court to determine whether he had established himself as the parent of the child that resulted. The reality is that unmarried individuals often intend to raise children together. The law should carry out that intent regardless of whether one party decides after the child is born that she has had a change of heart. We don’t deny children of divorced parents relationships with both of their parents, and we shouldn’t single out children brought into the world by unmarried parents using fertility treatments.

It is important to keep in mind the fact that it is only those men who establish a relationship with a child who would be permitted to seek parentage orders under SB 115. The only way that these men establish such a relationship is with the consent of the biological mother. If the mother does not wish to be faced with a co-parent it is in her power to prevent that from happening. She can either use sperm obtained from an anonymous donor who has waived his rights, or she can refuse to permit a relationship from being established in the first place. It is not the child who should be deprived of a relationship because the child’s mother has changed her mind.

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Owner of California Surrogacy Agency Embezzled $2M

Intended parents considering surrogacy as a potential alternative parenting option should take note of the recent Tonya Collins case.

The former owner of the Central California-based Surrogenesis agency pleaded guilty to charges that she stole approximately $2 million in funds from prospective parents – funds which the parents had thought they set aside to pay surrogate fees and help cover the costs of surrogacy’s medical expenses.

Without question, Collins’ criminal dealings are inexcusable and reprehensible. But prospective parents exploring surrogacy should focus less on their well-justified feelings of moral outrage and more on the practical lessons to be learned.

The scheme that unfolded at Surrogenesis brings to light the stark lack of regulation governing surrogacy in the U.S. While California has recently introduced legislation that effectively codifies general best practices and helps protect both surrogates and intended parents, surrogacy’s regulatory environment as a whole still is one that is largely hands-off.

As such, the commercial surrogacy industry is rife with opportunities for fraud and abuse by its practitioners. For intended parents, this means that you need to be extra cautious and deliberate in choosing your team of professionals. The stakes are far too high – and the risk of abuse far too great – for you to settle for a consultant, lawyer, or agency with whom you feel anything less than one hundred percent confident and comfortable.

If there are elements of your surrogacy arrangement that strike you as strange, you should trust your instincts and seek clarification. If you’re met with resistance in your questioning, take it as a sign to look elsewhere. You shouldn’t be required to place funds in a mysterious escrow account; you shouldn’t be prevented from meeting or engaging with your surrogate; you shouldn’t be forced to rely strictly on limited email correspondence in carrying out what is perhaps the single most important thing that you’ll ever do in your life.

The Tonya Collins case is a disheartening reminder of the real risks that are out there. But you shouldn’t let it discourage or dissuade you from the dream of bringing a child into your family that is biologically your own. When carried out responsibly and correctly, surrogacy can bring profound joy. Just be certain that you’re going about it the right way.

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At some point along the way, there’s a good chance that you’ll face skepticism or even outright criticism over your decision to pursue surrogacy.

Despite ever-growing awareness and acceptance of surrogacy as a viable alternative parenting option, intended parents should realize that such doubt and questioning is still an unfortunate reality. The likelihood of being confronted by those who question your decision of course depends on a combination of factors: where you live, your marital status, your sexual orientation, and your surrounding religious and spiritual community, among others.

Thankfully, public attitudes toward surrogacy seem to be growing more and more favorable by the day. Major policy initiatives have passed on the state level which establish a sensible legal framework to govern surrogacy’s practice; several popular celebrities have embraced surrogacy and served as outspoken champions of the joys which it can bring; top-tier media outlets have run features on women who choose to serve as surrogates for much than just money, speaking with great emotion in saying that they feel blessed to be part of a miracle in creating a new life.

But to tell ourselves that surrogacy is universally celebrated would be to dismiss a real challenge that many intended parents face. From family to neighbors to medical professionals, you might encounter criticism in a wide variety of forms. Sometimes it might be outspoken, other times it might manifest in an unsaid gesture. Whatever the case may be, the effect it can have on your confidence and emotional well-being can be significant.

To merely ignore such criticism is a lofty but often unrealistic solution. No matter how much strength we might find in those who support us, and no matter how convinced we are that what we’re doing is right, the doubts can still creep in.

The best way you can handle surrogacy’s critics, then, is to take active measures to avoid them and keep them away from your child. When building your team of consultants, lawyers, and medical professionals, be sure to select those who will offer nothing but support for your decision – regardless of whether you’re a traditional or nontraditional parent or couple. If it’s a family member that questions your decision, explain to them that it’s a choice made through love, and that you’re fully committed to raising a happy, healthy, and supported child. If they still criticize, you might re-consider the extent to which you want them involved in your child’s life.

You need to make choices that are best for your new family, and that includes proactively building an environment that will love and support not only you as an intended parent, but your new child as well.

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The good news: India’s parliament has introduced new rules to help govern its large and still-growing commercial surrogacy industry, which has drawn international criticism for its stark lack of regulation.

The bad news: the new rules do little to improve the quality and consistency of care, protect Indian surrogates, or ensure the healthy pre-natal development of the new children created through surrogacy’s process.

Instead of channeling its regulatory efforts toward creating a safer, more reliable, and more equitable environment for its surrogates, India’s government has introduced a law banning foreign LGBT couples and heterosexual singles from taking part in its surrogacy industry. The rules mandate that foreign couples who use Indian surrogates must be a male-female couple that have been married for at least two years. Anyone who falls outside of that criterion is prohibited.

The new law has understandably triggered a barrage of criticism over its discriminatory nature. While such frustrations are certainly justified, intended parents who had considered pursuing surrogacy in India should see this as a blessing in disguise.

While the financial costs of conducting surrogacy in India might indeed be cheaper compared to the U.S. and many other countries, the true cost lies in the industry’s often horrid treatment of its surrogates, rules preventing parent interaction, and the dangerous and desperate environment in which your child will be brought to term. There’s too much at stake in surrogacy for financial cost to be the deciding factor. Remember, this is more than just your life; it’s the life of your new child as well.

India’s new surrogacy rules also highlight a real threat facing both LGBT parents and heterosexual singles: unless you take active measures to protect yourself, there’s a significant chance that you’ll face skepticism or even criticism over your decision to pursue surrogacy. You need to build for yourself an environment in which everyone around you – from family members to lawyers to medical professionals and everyone in between – is supportive of your decision and ready to embrace the soon-to-be member of your family with love.

At Future Family Starter, we can help you do just that. By making California home for your surrogacy journey and partnering with us, you can take a significant step toward eliminating potential critics from your inner circle. You deserve to be judged not by your sexuality or marital status, but instead by the level of love and care with which you’ll welcome your new child.

Though prejudiced and insulting, intended parents should ultimately be thankful for the new surrogacy rules in India, as they will help steer you to a much healthier and more supportive home for your new child.

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Cases Reinforces the Clarity of California’s Surrogacy and Alternative Parenting Laws

For anyone exploring alternative parenting options, the recent case of Kansas resident William Marotta has given reason for pause. Intended parents, prospective surrogates, and potential egg or sperm donors should all take stock of what has developed, and use it as a lesson to be learned from.

After seeing a Craigslist posting, William Marotta, 46, graciously donated sperm to Jennifer Schreiner and Angele Bauer free of charge in 2009. His heart was certainly in the right place: Marotta refused the ad’s $50 financial offer, motivated instead purely by his desire to help the hopeful lesbian couple become parents.

The group kept things mostly unofficial. There was a simple written agreement that Marotta would not be named the legal father of the child, nor would he be responsible for paying child support. Instead of using a clinic or doctor, Marotta simply gave the couple a container of semen.

Now, the Kansas Department for Children and Families is seeking to have Marotta declared the 3-year-old child’s father and be held financially responsible for child support. The state agency argues that the written agreement between the two parties is invalid, and cites a state law that sperm donation must be facilitated by a licensed physician or clinic in order for the father to be officially protected from potential financial obligations.

The case highlights the dangers of whimsically pursuing alternative parenting methods. There’s far too much at stake in alternative parenting, and the laws and regulations are far too complex, for intended parents, donors, surrogates, or anyone else to carry out assisted reproductive medical techniques without a properly structured legal agreement and well executed process.

When applying its lessons specifically to surrogacy, the case also underscores California’s standing as a safe haven compared to the largely unclear and unpredictable legal environments governing surrogacy in the U.S. With the recent implementation of a new surrogacy bill at the beginning of January 2013, the state has codified general best practices to regulate the legal agreement and relationship between intended parents and surrogates. As such, California has effectively eliminated the possibility of a case like Marotta’s developing in surrogacy arrangements that are conducted in-state.

More fundamentally, the case brings to light a basic premise we should all abide by: if a couple is to pursue alternative parenting options, they should do so responsibly and deliberately, or else not at all. The most significant beneficiary of such an ethos, of course, is the new child created through assisted reproductive technology.