I appeared on Fox’s nationally-syndicated Morning Show with Mike and Juliet last week to debate a New Mexico case where a man who had donated sperm to a lesbian couple is now on the hook for child support to the children’s biological mother. The case is detailed in New Mexico Court Orders Sperm Donor to Pay Child Support (Fox News, 7/31/08):
A court battle over whether a sperm donor should pay a higher rate of child support has ended with a ruling that the man is liable because he has taken an active role in raising the children.
Kevin Zoernig had argued he was not required to pay child support because he is a sperm donor and is protected under the state’s Uniform Parentage Act.
But the state Court of Appeals noted in its July 25 opinion that this was not a case involving an anonymous donor or a known donor who provided sperm to a licensed physician under an agreement in which he agreed to have no parental rights…
Zoernig agreed in 1994 to donate sperm so that Mintz and her partner at the time, Deborah Mrantz, could have a child. After the couple broke up, Zoernig fathered another child for Mintz, again as a sperm donor.
Zoernig, Mintz and Mrantz had entered into an agreement in 1994 in which the female couple would be the child’s primary custodians. Zoernig would serve as a male role model but not be financially obligated to support the child.
Mintz and Zoernig entered into a similar agreement for the second child, born in 1997, court records show.
Although Mintz is the children’s primary custodian, they stay with Zoernig every other weekend during the school year and half the summer. Zoernig, 50, now is married and has three children with his wife.
In February 2000, Mintz sought child support payments from Zoernig. The parties agreed the following year that Zoernig would pay $250 a month in child support, plus $50 a month toward arrears, according to court documents.
In 2004, Mintz filed a motion to raise those payments, saying her financial situation had changed. A state district judge adopted a new rate of $670 a month.
Zoernig turned to the Court of Appeals, challenging his obligation to provide any support as well as the higher rate, since the children were conceived through artificial insemination.
The appellate court said he must pay support for both children.
The court said he “enjoys the rights of parenthood,” and that the agreements entered into prior to conception “that purport to absolve him of his responsibility to pay child support” are not enforceable.
In this ABC story, Mintz said “It was shocking to me when his lawyer showed up with arguments that he shouldn’t have to pay child support because he was a sperm donor. It seemed quite preposterous.”
There was a bit of a technical screw-up on the show, so our segment was shorter than planned, but I did get to make my basic points. My views on the case are as follows:
1) Zoernig, Mintz, and Mrantz made an agreement. Zoernig held up his end of the bargain and then some. Why is it that mothers are so often able to toss agreements aside in family court as soon as they become inconvenient?
2) Zoernig did Mintz and Mrantz a favor. Mintz returned the favor by handing Zoernig an invoice.
3) Some have dismissed the amount of child support that Mintz is demanding of Zoernig as insignificant. Well, when it was $250, I can understand that. Once the child support went up to $670 a month — remember that’s 670 post-tax dollars — it’s no longer insignificant. Zoernig is a musician who apparently does not make much money. Also, he is married and has three children of his own. This is doubtlessly causing him problems with his family.
4) The mother and those who sympathize with her, including two of the guests on the show, argue that Zoernig is enjoying the rights of a parent without any of the responsibilities. When we’re speaking of fathers, of course, “responsibility” is a polite word for child support. I pointed out that this man has been supporting his children for 14 years by playing an active, positive role in their lives. This is far beyond anything that the mother could have reasonably expected, and we can all see how grateful she is.
5) If you want to put it simply in monetary terms, I have no doubt that Zoernig has spent plenty of money on the kids over the past 14 years. For one, they have spent much of their time with him, and he has had to provide a living place for them and cover expenses while they are with him. He has probably also bought them and provided them countless things over the years.
6) Given that Zoernig is not a high earner, even if this were a straight divorce case as opposed to a sperm donor case, there is still no reason why Zoernig should be paying Mintz money. I do believe that there are cases where child support is appropriate. For example, if one parent has been the primary caregiver during a marriage and upon divorce earns significantly less than the other parent, I believe that there should be child support. I do not see any indication of this in this case.
7) If there is anybody in this case who should be obligated for child support it is Mintz’s former lesbian partner Deborah Mrantz. It is Mrantz who agreed to have the child with Mintz and the two of them agreed to raise their child. Deborah Mrantz is apparently no longer in the picture, and nobody involved in the show seem to know what had happened to her. Perhaps she left after their breakup and abandoned her child. Perhaps she was driven out of the child’s life by Mintz, as is common in lesbian breakups. [To learn more about this issue, see my co-authored column Lesbian Child Custody Battles and Heterosexual Divorce (World Net Daily, 8/5/08)].
8) I’m not surprised that the New Mexico court ruled as they did. Courts will almost always rule that fathers have to pay child support because it is “in the best interest of the child.”
9) What’s ironic here is that Mintz, by acting as she did, probably cost the children money in the long run. Research shows that when fathers’ custody rights are respected, they are quite generous with their children as they enter their college years. In my column New Study Punctures Myth of Uncaring Divorced Dad (Newsday, 6/23/03), I discussed a study which showed that, adjusting for all other factors, fathers actually provide more financial support for their children’s college educations than mothers. Zoernig probably would have supplied a substantial amount of money over the kids’ teen and college years and into their adult would. Now that Mintz has poisoned the well, I wonder if this will still be true.
10) Mintz was invited to come on the show by the Fox producers. She refused. That’s a shame — I would’ve enjoyed debating her. Apparently she didn’t think she would enjoy debating me.
To watch the video of the show, click here or see below.
Also on the show were Chicago family law attorney Enrico Mirabelli, who made some good points about the need to respect contracts, as well as two women who sided with the mother, Melissa B. Brisman, Esq. and child advocate Trenny Stovall.