The High Court has recently ruled that a sperm donor is a father*!

*In certain cases.

Despite the click bait title, don’t fret! This doesn’t automatically mean that every sperm donation you made that successfully resulted in a child makes you a father. This was a very particular case where the man who donated the sperm to his friend had always intended to be actively involved in the child’s life, was listed as the father on the birth certificate, and was referred to by the child as ‘daddy’. 

In the recent High Court case of Massons v Parsons, Mr Massons, the father, was successful in his appeal to prevent Ms Parsons, the mother, and her partner from relocating to New Zealand with their two children, one of whom was conceived using the father’s sperm.

The main issues that were discussed in this case were:

  1. Conflict of law – difficult situation where the neither the Federal nor State legislation dealt with the question of whether sperm donors were automatically parents. In a situation where there was no conflicting legislation, there is a question of which would be utilised. According to Federal law, Mr Massons is the child’s parent as he was the biological father and involved in the child’s life providing financial support and parental care.  According to State law, sperm donors are not fathers, and initially Ms Parsons and her partner could relocate.  The High Court decided that the Federal legislation would prevail as section 60H of the Family Law Act, which deals with children born of artificial conception procedures, included a non-exhaustive class of persons who may quality as ‘parents’.
  • Meaning of ‘parent’ – the High Court agreed that the term ‘parent’ should take its natural and ordinary meaning and it is not only those who have, by law, parental responsibilities, that can be a parent. 

It is unlikely that this decision will have an impact on people who donate sperm more generally. Indeed, the High Court did not mention the possibility of extending any obligations to sperm donors who have opted out of having a relationship with the child. But it is potentially a widening of the definition and understanding of a ‘parent’ for family law purposes.

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