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Update: Committee halts progress of parental rights bill in CA

It's important to understand that not all courtroom battles over child custody or enforcement of parental rights occur in the context of traditional divorce. In fact, the parties seeking to resolve these legal disputes concerning the best interests of children frequently involve stepparent relationships, domestic partnerships and even people who conceived through assisted reproductive techniques.

Interestingly, the issue of granting parental rights in the context of assisted reproductive techniques remains relatively unsettled in many U.S. states, including California, where legislators are currently considering legislation that would grant these parental rights to men who have otherwise contributed to the assisted reproductive process.

As we discussed in a previous post, California legislators have been presented with Senate Bill 115, which would clarify existing state law by permitting men whose sperm was used to conceive a child via artificial insemination to request parental rights if they can demonstrate a certain level of involvement in the life of the child.

Sponsored by Sen. Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo), the legislation rapidly gained the support of many fathers' rights advocates, including actor Jason Patric, who was recently involved in his own bitter legal dispute with his ex-girlfriend concerning custody of a now three-year-old boy the couple conceived via IVF.

At trial, Patric's attorneys indicated that he had signed an "intended parent" document and spent considerable time in the boy's life until his relationship with his girlfriend ended. The girlfriend's attorneys countered that Patric's involvement with the boy was never as an intended parent, but rather merely a byproduct of their relationship.

Here, the judge ultimately found that Patric clearly met the criteria for a sperm donor outlined in a 2011 state law, and therefore had no parental rights to assert. He has since filed an appeal.

It should be noted that SB 115 was drafted with the express purpose of clarifying this 2011 state law, which critics say is unfairly punitive toward sperm donors seeking to establish their parental rights.

In recent developments, it appears that forward momentum for SB 115 -- which had previously passed the State Senate without encountering significant opposition -- has officially ground to a halt.

That's because the Assembly Judiciary Committee voted by a 5-2 margin to keep the bill in committee for further discussion. Here, the committee members indicated that while this was an issue that required attention, it would perhaps be the best course of action to wait for Patric's case to work its way through the state court system first.

"It's premature from my point of view to have the legislature take action on this issue," said one committee member.

For his part, Sen. Hill vowed to continue working to craft a bill that was acceptable to those lawmakers with lingering concerns and asked the committee to reconsider an amended version prior to the adjournment of the current legislative session.

Stay tuned for updates from our Texas divorce blog …

Source: The San Jose Mercury News, "California paternity-rights bill on hold," Laura Olson, August 13, 2013

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