Sperm donor who performed secret DNA test on lesbian couple’s child told he has no parental rights
A landmark appeals court ruling found that a sperm donor has no parental rights to the child of a lesbian couple that he helped to conceive.
Giovanah L Leon gave birth to a child in April 2016, three months after she married her wife, Dominique Leon.
The pair had conceived with the help of Raymond J Doherty. They became friends with Doherty and his fiancée in 2015, and shortly after Doherty agreed to donate his sperm on the understanding he was was “helping a same-sex couple”, according to court documents.
It was also agreed he “would not have any parental rights” and “in return [Giovanah and Dominique would] not go after him for child support”.
Before the birth, in December 2015, Dominique and Giovanah moved in with Doherty and his fiancée, but moved out after two weeks because they were “scared” by his “angry” and “mean” behaviour after drinking, the opinion states.
The two couples lost contact, but Dominique got in contact with Doherty in May 2017 after an argument with her wife, concerned about her own rights as the baby’s parent, despite being named on their birth certificate.
Six months later, Giovanah was sentenced to prison for federal aggravated assault, according to the Arizona Daily Independent, with Dominique becoming the baby’s primary caregiver.
Having repaired their friendship, Doherty and his fiancée would often babysit. On one such occasion, in January 2018, Doherty had a DNA test carried out on the child, and a few months later used this document to attempt to gain paternity.
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While babysitting in April, Doherty refused to return the child to Dominique and made false accusations about her parenting to local authorities. Dominique’s family cared for the child while the claims were investigated, and following the debacle she ceased all contact with Doherty, who in turn filed a paternity petition in May 2018 seeking legal decision-making, parenting time and child support.
In December of that year, Doherty was granted weekly parenting time of 28 hours a week by the Pima County Superior Court. Judge Cathleen Linn eventually denied his petition for parental rights, but Doherty filed an appeal in August 2019 – the same month Giovanah was released from prison.
Almost a year later, in July 2020, the issue was finally put to bed by the Arizona Court of Appeals. After hearing oral arguments, chief judge Garye Vasquez authored an option reiterating that the sperm donor has no parental rights.
Judge Vasquez wrote that the argument was one between two competing Arizona paternity laws.
One says that a married couple have parental rights, even if only one member is biologically related to the child. The other presumes parentage based on genetic testing.
The court said that where there are competing legal presumptions, it is down to the superiors court judge to decide which prevails based on “considerations of policy and logic”.
In this case, Vasquez said parents “with an existing parental relationship, either in fact or law, are entitled to the highest constitutional protection”. The ruling noted that by waiting for two years after the child was born to seek parental rights, Doherty had supported the mothers’ claim he donated sperm without any intention of claiming paternity.
Unless Doherty appeals once more, the court’s ruling takes effect Friday (August 28), the same day the Leons are set to appear in court regarding their pending divorce.