California paternity-rights bill on hold
Wednesday, August 14, 2013
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — A bill sparked by a custody dispute involving "The Lost Boys" actor Jason Patric that would allow certain sperm donors to seek paternity rights in court is on hold after failing to clear a legislative panel Tuesday.
Patric testified before state lawmakers about his court battle to gain custody of his now 3-year-old son, Gus. A judge deemed him a sperm donor — rather than a parent — during a custody dispute over the boy.
He and his ex-girlfriend, Danielle Schreiber, conceived the child through artificial insemination. Patric and Schreiber, who never married, disagree on the role Patric was to play in the child's life.
Patric says he hasn't seen the child in months and asked lawmakers to think about "a child sitting daily and wondering what happened."
As a result of that case and others brought to his attention, state Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, put forward legislation that would allow a man whose sperm was used to conceive a child through artificial insemination to seek parental rights if he can show a certain level of involvement in the child's life.
Hill says his bill, SB115, is an attempt to clarify a 2011 statute, which said unmarried men who provided sperm to a doctor or sperm bank do not have parental rights unless otherwise agreed to in writing prior to conception.
The measure sailed through the Senate without opposition but recently has generated aggressive lobbying from representatives for Patric, Schreiber and organizations involved in child custody and women's rights.
Among the bill's supporters are Equality California and the National Center for Lesbian Rights, which say the bill strikes the right balance by requiring a donor seeking parental rights to have lived with the child and presented the child as his own.
Opponents — including the state's chapter of the National Organization for Women, Planned Parenthood, and the Academy of California Adoption Lawyers — say the measure is too broad and could unintentionally affect the rights of single mothers or same-sex couples who use sperm donors.
In emotional but measured testimony Tuesday, Patric told the Assembly Judiciary Committee that he went to "great lengths," including surgery, to become a father. He said both he and Schreiber signed an "intended parent" document, but that current law prevented him from fully presenting his case to the judge.
Other men have come to him to share similar cases and "every single one of us was barred from proving our parentage by this loophole in a law," Patric said.
Schreiber's attorney, Fred Heather, told lawmakers that a judge did consider Patric's documents and videos of his son, but ultimately ruled against him.
"The suggestion that the trial judge was confused as to the state of the law is equally untrue," said Heather, who asked lawmakers to refrain from acting on the bill while the case is on appeal.
The Assembly Judiciary Committee voted 5-2 to hold the bill in committee for further discussion.
Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento, who voted to keep the bill in committee, said he believes the parental rights issue raised by the case needs to be addressed but that the court system first should be allowed to finish its work.
"It's premature from my point of view to have the Legislature take action on this issue," Dickinson said.
Hill said after the hearing that he will continue to work with various parties to reach agreement on the legislation. The senator said he felt resistance from some lawmakers to his attempts to work on the bill and asked the committee to reconsider an amended version before this year's session concludes.
Patric also expressed frustration after the vote, remarking briefly to an Associated Press reporter that the committee "doesn't care about children in the middle of something and fixing it."
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