I have recently been witness to an argument between two acquaintances and since neither of them were lawyers, I offered to post to Law.SE to try and resolve it.

For context: since same-sex marriage became legal in USA, many newly married lesbian couples who cannot afford sperm bank/fertility services, use sperm donors, usually found either through interpersonal networks or various personals sites. From what I've been told, there's a significant amount of people who pursue this approach. Obviously, since you get what you pay for, unlike "official" fertility services, these come with certain medical as well as legal risks.

There is apparently a typical protocol involved in this to mitigate the legal risks, one part of which is that both parties sign some sort of "legal" release forms - in case of the donor, the document being signed states that they will not seek paternal rights in the future.

The argument I was witness to revolved around whether this sort of a document is legally enforceable, or is just a feel-good paper with notary seal on it.

My main contribution to the argument was that (1) neither one of them was a lawyer so the should really seek professional advice if this was a practical concern, and (2) I'm pretty sure state laws differ on the topic so the answer might be "it depends".

So, the exact question is:

A male sperm donor, who is not donating via a fertility clinic/sperm bank, signs a document stating that they relinquish future paternal/parental rights to the child conceived from their sperm. Later on, the donor changes their mind and seeks legal paternal/parental rights, such as visitation with the child. How legally enforceable is the document the donor signed in the eyes of the legal system?

You can assume that the document was written as well as it can be from the viewpoint of a lawyer familiar with that state's family law, and was notarized.

If the answer depends on jurisdiction, an example of a state where the answer is "yes" and one where the answer is "no" would suffice, although an explanation of how to tell the answer for any other arbitrary state would be desirable as well.

1 Answer 1


This is indeed an area of law where the answer does depend on the jurisdiction. As a 2015 article on the subject noted (and I am loathe to refer to less current sources as this is a rapidly changing area):

The United States has no national laws or regulations governing assisted reproduction. However, many states have piecemeal legislation. Some aspects are regulated, while others are not; some states have strict laws or regulations whereas others are looser.

As a 2017 American Bar Association article with citations notes, this isn't entirely true. There are some national laws that apply, but they aren't comprehensive and probably don't control the situation described in the OP. It also notes that:

Certain states, like California, have created a legislative environment supportive of surrogacy by providing for the validity and enforcement of commercial surrogacy agreements and enacting legislation to define the resulting nontraditional parental relationships.10 Others, like New York, explicitly prohibit commercial surrogate parenting contracts,11 requiring most residents and potential surrogates in the state to seek desirable surrogacy arrangements in other states. However, so many aspects of ART are simply not addressed by the states:12 there is no state regulation of the number of children that may be conceived by an individual donor, no rules regarding the types of medical information and updates that must be supplied by young donors as they age, no standards regarding genetic testing on embryos, no limits on the age of donors, and virtually no regulation of the gametic13 material market.

(Gametic material means sperm and eggs.)

The American Bar Association has more resources on related issues here.

A 2014 article surveyed the issue broadly.

Colorado has a law that permits arrangements like these and makes them enforceable if the formalities of the statute are followed.

It is not easy to figure out exactly which states do and do not allow this because: (1) there is a model act to authorize this but many states that allow it crafted their own legislation rather than following the model act (Article 6 of the Model Act is the part relevant to the OP), and (2) some states have allowed this kind of arrangement via case law rather than statutory law. There are also states with no statutes on the subject and no clear case law one way or the other. As of 2010 all but a handful of states had some kind of legislation, but as noted above, some of that legislation disallowed rather than authorized certain practices or only address some issues and not others.

This article reviews in detail the facts and rulings in several cases that are on point to this issue, for example, from California, Minnesota and Montana.

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    A similar case here was ruled by Kansas that the donor needed to pay child support, although it states that had a physician carried out the procedure that it would be a different outcome. It looks like it was later overturned but who knows what the individual spent on legal fees to get there.
    – Ron Beyer
    Jul 18, 2018 at 0:11
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    @RonBeyer - I'm aware of that case, as were the people arguing. That case is the opposite of what the question is about, which is about the donor suing the sperm recipients to gain paternal rights (not donor being sued for child support).
    – user0306
    Jul 18, 2018 at 1:40
  • OK, I'm soooo confused. Model act sections 602 and 603 seems to contradict each other. Completely
    – user0306
    Jul 18, 2018 at 1:48
  • Sorry, I tried going through the model act and the last linked article, but the legalese makes it very difficult to understand which specific pieces address the issue of legal enforceability of a document relinquishing parental rights?
    – user0306
    Jul 18, 2018 at 1:53
  • @DVK This case is governed by 602 and not by 603. The key language in 602 is "A donor" which is defined term. The key language in 603 is "with the intent to be a parent of her child is a parent of the resulting child." The relinquishment document is establishing if the person is a "donor" or is donating "with the intent to be a parent".
    – ohwilleke
    Jul 18, 2018 at 3:05

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