Here’s a slippery problem. According to this story in the Legal Intelligencer , in the early 1990s Joel McKiernan and Ivonne Ferguson were involved in a romantic relationship. After the relationship ended, they remained in contact, and when, several years later, Ms. Ferguson wanted to conceive a child, she asked Mr. McKiernan to donate sperm for in-vitro fertilization. They agreed orally that Mr. McKiernan would do so, but that he would have no parental rights and no obligation to support any children thus conceived.

The procedure was successful, and Ms. Ferguson gave birth to twins. Soon thereafter Mr. McKiernan and Ms. Ferguson lost contact. About five or six years later, however, Ms. Ferguson was in reduced financial circumstances, and, after applying for and being denied state aid for her children, she sued Mr. McKiernan for child support, retroactive to the birth of the twins.

The case ended last week in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. The court held that Mr. McKiernan has no obligation to support the children. In the majority opinion , Justice Baer argued that a contrary decision would discourage sperm donation and thus undermine many of the alternative means of human reproduction that have become so common in the last couple of decades

The principal argument for the dissent (there were two dissenting opinions, available here and here ) was that a parent has no legal authority to bargain away a child’s right to support from the other parent and thus any agreement between Ms. Ferguson and Ms. McKiernan was void.

Oh, what a tangled wed we weave, when strangely choose we to conceive.

Articles by Robert T. Miller

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