"You can't be half a father, and half not, under the law," stated Melissa Brisman, reproductive lawyer.
That is the conclusion as well of Nassau County Family Court Judge Ellen Greenberg when she made her ruling on November 16 2007. The father, who is anonymous, will now have to meet with a support magistrate to determine what, if any support he is responsible for until the child is 21 years-old.
According to the man's testimony, he was a physician in the same Nassau County hospital as the child's mother worked in the late 1980's. He learned that the woman and her female partner wanted to have a baby, so he donated sperm for that purpose. The woman gave birth July 26 1989 and the man, who was married at that time, agreed verbally to not have any rights or benefits in raising the child. That agreement was never put in writing, though he did allow his name to appear on the child's birth cetificate because he felt it was in the child's best interest to have an identity.
The man also had contact with the child as it was growing up, that is until 1993, when the mother, her partner and the child moved to Oregon in 1993. He also sent the boy gifts, money and cards and letters signed "Dad" or "Daddy." up until then. After the move though, he has spoken to the child by phone only seven times in 15 years and met him once for several hours three years ago.
Jeffrey Herbst, the attorney representing the child's mother, stated that while there isn't any genetic evidence that the man is the boy's father, he feels that contact that had been made forms a parental relationship. He also cited the statement that the child had known no-one other than that man as his father to be proof of the relationship.
Deborah Kelly, attorney for the man, acknowledged that the man is named on the father on the birth certificate but she feels that his trust has been abused. Her client had been told that things would be one way and had been that for 18 years and now he has been told very differently. Her client had requested a paternity test since there was no concrete evidence that he was the father but the judge felt it would have a traumatic effect on the child and didn't allow it.
To protect the child from any trauma is what the court's should be doing but the father in this case is facing a traumatic effect as well. He has very little contact with his son in the past fifteen years and now, when the child is 18 years-old and college-bound, he is hit with a lawsuit seeking child support from the friend and her partner he had helped long ago.
While there are two sides to this debate and the laws have not kept up well with all the changes in what constitutes a "family" these days I do wonder why the mother is seeking support now. She has a partner, who she chose to have the child with and that partner should have adopted the child. I can understand wanting to keep someone who may have been a very good role model for a young boy but I don't feel that the "father" is liable for child support this late in the game. He did do them a favor and while there may not have been everything in writing, it would be fair to assume that both the mother and her partner are responsible for that child's support until age 21.