A man who donated his sperm to a lesbian couple 13 years ago in a private arrangement has been ordered to pay child support. He has called on the Government to make changes in the law so that private sperm donors are treated fairly.
Mark Langridge met the couple in 1997 and they became close friends. When one of the women expressed her desire have children, Langridge agreed to donate his sperm in 1998 and again one year later. The woman became pregnant twice after inseminating herself with the sperm at home, giving birth to two children.
'Of course, if I'd foreseen this all those years ago I would not have agreed to it', Langridge told the Guardian. 'I just wanted to help a woman in need, and though what harm could it do?'.
Langridge told the Guardian that he only agreed to donate after receiving assurances that the couple was able to support the children financially and would not require any contributions from him in the future. Some years later, however, the couple split up leaving the mother with both children.
Langridge, who has had no contact with the family since 2004, received a letter from the Child Support Agency (CSA) this year demanding he pay £26 a week in child support until both children reach adulthood.While the mother's partner still sees the girls on weekends, the CSA has not asked her to provide financial support, Langridge says. 'I feel as if I am the victim of a state-sponsored blackmail plot […] it was purely an act of kindness on my part and now I am being made to pay', he told the Daily Mail.
A CSA spokesman told the Guardian: 'The law covering unlicensed sperm donation has always been very clear. Only anonymous sperm donors, at licensed centres, are exempt from being treated as the legal father of a child born as a result of their donation'. This is not entirely correct, however, and the law on sperm donation is complex.
Current law in the UK states if a man donates his sperm through a licensed clinic – which after 1 April 2005 cannot be done anonymously - then he will not be legally responsible for any children born as a result of the donation. Had Langridge donated his sperm through a licensed clinic then he would not be legally responsible for the children.
However, if a man donates in a private or informal arrangement, as Langridge appeared to do, then he would be considered to be the child's legal father - but some exceptions apply. Under the current law, men who donate outside licensed fertility clinics to married or lesbian couples in a civil partnership (who can now both be held legally and financially responsible for their children conceived artificially) will not be held to be the child's legal father – and will not be required to pay child support.
Langridge has called for the changes in the law to apply retrospectively to people who donated before April 2009, although as the lesbian couple in the case was not reportedly in a civil partnership it is not clear what such a change would achieve in his case.
Langridge also claims that he has been treated unfairly because, at the time of his donation, the women would have had difficulty in accessing donated sperm through a licensed clinic. Before the law was changed in 2009, an interpretation of the requirement for clinics to take into account the 'need… for a father' when providing fertility treatment meant that many single women and lesbian couples found it difficult to access treatment at licensed clinics.
A similar case arose in 2007 (reported in BioNews 437), when fireman Andy Bathie donated his sperm privately to a lesbian couple and was then ordered to pay over £400 a month after the couple split up. After Bathie had contacted the media, the CSA told him it would reconsider his case, although it did not confirm whether or not a decision was taken to do so.
Natalie Gamble, a fertility lawyer, has urged people to be extremely careful before going ahead as a private donor. 'Make sure you structure things to protect yourself by only donating to a married/civilly partnered couple or via a clinic, or at the very least that you understand the risk you are taking', she said.