The issue of paternity or “parentage” can play an important role in family law cases. Paternity essentially identifies a child’s parents in the eyes of the law. As in most states, Maryland law sets forth that the parents of a minor child are jointly and severally responsible for the child’s support, care, nurture, welfare, and education. In some family law cases, even in matters where the parties are married and seeking to divorce, there can be disputes over the paternity of a child. It is important to fully understand the financial and practical implications of parentage in any family court dispute. Before you pursue any legal action, you are strongly encouraged to seek the help of an experienced Maryland family law attorney who can work to protect your rights.
In a recent Maryland divorce case, the father contested the issue of legal parentage in an effort to avoid any obligations or rights with respect to the child at the center of the dispute. Here, the couple got married in 2008 and entered into an “in-vitro” fertilization (“IVF”) plan in 2010. The parties each signed the contracts and other documents necessary to implement the plan. A child was then conceived and born with the help of a donated egg and donated sperm. Shortly after the child was born, the couple separated, and the father contested legal paternity.
In 2012, the court issued an order establishing paternity, which included the father’s legal responsibility to support the minor child. The court later issued a judgment of divorce in June 2013, and in 2014, it found the father to be “voluntarily impoverished,” ordered him to pay child support and arrearages, and granted the mother’s order of protection.
Father appealed, arguing (among other things) that the court erred in determining that he was the parent of a child conceived via IVF, with donated sperm and a donated egg. The court of appeals first looked at Section 1-206 of the Maryland Estates and Trusts Article, which applied to this case because the child was born during the marriage. The law provides that “a child conceived by artificial insemination of a married woman with the consent of her husband is the legitimate child of both of them for all purposes.” Father attempted to argue that the statute did not apply to this case, since the parties utilized IVF reproductive technology and not artificial insemination.
The court reviewed the statutory intent in conjunction with related case law, and concluded that under Maryland law, within the bounds of a marriage, the type of reproductive procedure does not affect the relationships of the parties involved. The court held that Section 1-206 encompasses IVF and concluded that a child conceived via IVF with the consent of the parties, who is born during the marriage, is the legitimate child of the marriage, and this establishes legal parentage as to both spouses. According to the court, to rule otherwise would “defy sound public policy.”
Therefore, under Section 5-203, Father, as a legal parent of the minor child, is jointly and severally responsible for the child’s support, care, nurture, welfare, and education. Clearly, this is a unique case highlighting the importance of understanding how parentage laws can affect the rights of a child and the responsibilities of a legal parent. Anyone facing a family law dispute of any kind should know their rights. Anthony A. Fatemi is a Maryland family law attorney who has extensive experience representing parties in all aspects of divorce. Mr. Fatemi can be reached at (888) 519-2801 or (301) 519-2801.
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