When “father” is “donor”: my legal story (Part 2)

This is a continuation of Lori’s story about using an anonymous donor, who realized that someday her donor-conceived child might need to qualify for federal student loans. Since the paperwork requires income records for both parents, and since there are plenty of other occasions in her state of Alabama where having a blank or ‘none’ on the birth certificate might not work with government employees, she wanted to be proactive. She was surprised to learn recently what she really needed it for.

At the time of my daughter’s conception, I was a successful home-builder and owned my own construction company. When I was gathering information in case I needed to prove someday that I used donor insemination to become a Choice Mom, I was financially stable and gloriously happy with my two children, who were ages 15 (from previous marriage) and five. Life was good!!

But fast forward a few more years and my whole world ran off into a ditch.

The real estate market in my area had remained very stable for 20 years, usually booming. Things began to slow in 2006. By early 2007 it STOPPED. It was time to get out and get out fast! I had five large homes under construction, our family home and one rental property. It got ugly real fast and life as we had known it was gone.

I finished and sold three of the houses I had under construction and signed the last two over to the bank to stop the $5,000 per month in construction loan interest payments. Sometimes you have to cut off the whole arm to stop the bleeding. I sold our personal home at a huge loss and we moved into the rental home – the smallest of them all. It was bad – but would get much worse! I didn’t declare bankruptcy, but probably should have.

Let’s fast forward again, to January 2010. I’ve not been able to find steady work. Gone are the savings, retirement fund, and my daughter’s college fund. Sold are the motor home, and the Harley and Jeep we bounced around in on weekends. Two years ago I canceled the health insurance for myself and my daughter because I could not pay the $791 per month premium any longer. Our home is headed into foreclosure. I had to apply for Medicaid so that my daughter and I could receive the health care and medications that I could no longer pay cash for. When it became difficult to pay the utilities I applied for, and gratefully received, SNAP food stamps.

I have worked so hard! How did this happen? I want our old life back!! What am I going to do?

Stay with me. There’s a reason I’m airing all my dirty laundry!

Never did I think I’d be on public assistance. I don’t think I’ve ever even known anyone who was on public assistance! The construction industry is still a complete bust, and I don’t know how to do much of anything outside construction. I’m 51 and have health issues that prevent me from standing as a cashier or being a sales clerk at Home Depot. I’ve about lost everything, including my pride, but I’ve got to do something!!

My son’s father is supporting him through college, but my daughter and I are on our own. I have no family support. This could happen to anyone — including a widowed or divorced mom with kids. I love my daughter so much, and it hurts me that her life has changed so much. This has been really hard!

I learn that the Department of Human Resources in my area has a jobs program that might be able to help me get back to work. They can assist me with job training. I’m probably a candidate for vocational rehab because I am a displaced construction worker with health problems.

But to get help from the state, I first have to meet with a social worker and then the CHILD SUPPORT ENFORCEMENT OFFICER. The eagle has landed. I didn’t know when or why that donor was going to be a problem – but that problem is now! If a mother with children needs public assistance and she’s not receiving child support, then the state will find the father and make him either pay support now or repay the government later for part of the help his child receives.

So I get out all of the paperwork from many years ago and take it to my meeting with the child support officer. He listened to my story. I spread all the clinic documents in front of him. He asked a few questions before looking at me like I had three heads! I told him that was all I could do to prove to him that he would never locate my daughter’s “deadbeat dad.”

He said he still needed to advertise in the newspaper that that state was trying to locate my daughter’s biological father in the chance that he would come forward, just as they do in all child support and adoption cases. I told him that would be foolish money spent by the government and that I would be embarrassed to have my name published like that for all to read. Everyone in my world knows how I conceived my daughter. But I didn’t want everyone I ever knew finding out in the newspaper that I was on food stamps! He said he would discuss it with a higher-up to figure out how to proceed and would be in touch within a couple of weeks. Eventually I received a letter indicating they decided to close my child support file. I guess my clinic paperwork did the trick. This time.

But it made me wonder what other legal snafus Choice Moms who used an anonymous or known donor will encounter? Public assistance never crossed my mind when I was trying to consider all the possibilities. My daughter’s birth certificate will be with her the rest of her life. Is it right for me to try to get the state to list her father as “DONOR,” or would that embarrass her when she goes to get her driver’s license? Do I need to apply for some kind of legal affidavit, and who would I ask for one? Should I wait for the next shoe to drop, hoping my clinic paperwork does the trick again? I really don’t know!

But I do know that Choice Moms have a lot of responsibility, and finances are heavily weighed when we choose single parenthood. We buy life insurance and name guardians in case something terrible happens to us and our children lose their only parent. We try to find male role models for them, we try to be the best mothers we can be. Hoping our donor-conceived children will understand what we have done to become their mother and not hate us for it on Father’s Day, or when there’s a father/daughter dance, or when their wedding pictures look lop-sided.

We cannot predict when we will have to PROVE we are the ONLY parent. It took a world-wide recession and collapse of the American real estate industry before I had to prove it. The paperwork I gathered from my medical chart worked for me – this time, but might not the next. Your situation might not be as dire or dramatic when you encounter a problem, but I’m suggesting that we all be wise to TRY to be prepared for anything. BEFORE you are stressed because the inconceivable has happened.

And there is the flip side of this subject for women who used a known donor. If I had used a known donor to conceive my daughter, and left the father information blank on the birth certificate, I would have had to either name the father so the state could force him to pay child support – or lie about it. I almost used a friend as donor so that my daughter could meet her bio-dad when she was older. Thank God I didn’t! It would be awful to drag him into this by the state forcing him to support a child.

My adventure as a Choice Mom has gotten a little bumpy 12 years after it began. But I wouldn’t trade the journey with my beautiful Choice daughter, and my almost grown-up son, for all the riches in the world! I know it’s been uncomfortable for them, too, but we have a wonderful family life together and they are being amazingly understanding.

 

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  5 comments for “When “father” is “donor”: my legal story (Part 2)

  1. JS
    May 27, 2018 at 11:30 am

    Hi,

    I very much appreciate sharing your story and challenges, as well as this website in general. But as someone who chose a known donor and before the child was born dealt with all legal information, I can speak to how these things are handled. And regardless, as the site so many women turn to for information when they are first considering being a Choice Mom, I would really hope this site would not publish information that lacks the appropriate legal references, and that promotes one choice over, especially without pointing out all the possibilities for either. I am not a lawyer so I definitely recommend getting information directly from lawyers who specialize in SMC’s, LBBTQ, IVF, etc. (and there are experts around the country). Many of us have gone on to have legally binding contracts with only ourselves on birth certificates and to have the lives we set out to, happy with our decisions. Yes, things sound complicated and there are plenty of hoops to jump through and situations such as public assistance to consider, but there are ways to account for these things ahead of time. States do differ so one needs to speak to lawyers who know their state laws. For example, in MA I was advised to first have a contract in place with my donor when I started trying. This doesn’t make it binding by the state automatically, but it shows intent, and you have it signed by your lawyers. Then, in the event of a live birth, the donor has to legally sign away his rights, and the mother only include their name on the birth certificate. The annoying part is that yes, based on archaic laws, the newspaper does have to publish an ad saying the mother is claiming they are the only parent. I was first upset by this but it was likely not read by anyone I knew, and worth it to ensure my child’s future. Then, once no one came forward I had to do a single adoption. Yes, I had to sign papers to adopt my own bio child, which also sounded preposterous when I first heard, but that was the legal channel (at least in some states) by which to make sure the donor could never be contacted or asked for support. With the prior contract and knowing how absurd this all is and how frequent such situations occur, the judges had no issues with this. And this was all worth it for both the known donor and I to do so that neither of us was worried about him having to ever have financial obligations (his worry) and the ability to claim legal rights (my worry). So, yes, there are ways to have a known donor if that’s what one wants, and I believe there are ways to legally ensure one’s rights if one has an anonymous but able-to-be-found donor if that’s what one chooses. So please, and I ask this of this site – please stop trying to dissuade women from making the choice of a known donor. You have already scared away some of my friends *and their donors* until they thankfully met people like me and actual lawyers to explain the process so at least they were able to make an informed choice. And please, please, include references to complex legal issues like the one above. Thanks so much, and to the poster I am so glad everything worked out, and again, I really apprecaite your sharing your story.

    • JS
      May 27, 2018 at 11:36 am

      Hi – sorry – I just re-read the comment from Mikki that said you tend to recommend non-anonymous donors. I had read that wrong. Still, my main comments stand and I want to both echo what “DC Daughter” said and also to make sure that the idea of completely known donors not be discouraged. And regardless of all of that, I very much hope that any story published like this one is accompanied by proper legal references and resources. This story is the one that made a friend’s donor almost back out of what was actually the perfect situation for all involved. Thanks again.

      • May 27, 2018 at 12:17 pm

        I used a known donor as well, as the founder of this site, and it has worked out well. So I’m certainly not trying to give off the impression that it’s not a good choice. It’s not for everyone, obviously. You really have to have the right person and legal advice to make that choice comfortably. And if you’re not comfortable, wait until you are. — Mikki

  2. DC Daughter
    January 1, 2017 at 4:18 pm

    This is a little weird. Legally speaking, don’t donors terminate all paternal rights and child support obligation via signing up to be a donor, in both situations, anonymous or otherwise?

    I don’t think the state could have realistically went after child support once a biological father was determined, regardless. The donor conception situation would come to light, once they decided to move forward with a financial demand.

    Personally, I find it unfortunate, as a donor-conceived individual myself, that the mother in this situation seems to validate the inconvenience of the donor over her child’s fundamental desire to know her biological father. (And possibly heritage, grandparents, aunts/uncles, and siblings. It’s not only a father that is severed as she states in regard to father/daughter dances and Father’s Day.)

    Many donor-conceived individuals take serious issue with the practice of artificial insemination, especially with anonymity, and I hope to add this take-away for anyone interested/researching conception alternatives. Listen to us. We are your children. Some of us are OK with the practice existing, but find there are serious problems with it as it stands currently, (if you ask us, we will tell you) and others feel it should be abolished altogether. It’s good to really objectively listen to all perspectives before proceeding.

    • January 1, 2017 at 5:20 pm

      Thanks for writing. Yes… we tend to recommend non-anonymous donors on this website. It’s always good to get multiple perspectives on that. — Mikki

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