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Is there a doctor in the house? New Jersey's artificial insemination law tested in custody battle

16 February 2015
Appeared in BioNews 790

A same-sex couple from New Jersey, USA, is challenging a sperm donor's visiting rights over their son conceived by artificial insemination.

Sheena and Tiara Yates gave birth to two sons who were both conceived by artificial insemination at home using different sperm donors. Before their conception, the Yates' had drawn up contracts under which the donors had agreed to relinquish their legal paternity. However, both men later changed their minds and sought visiting rights over their respective biological sons.

The first donor succeeded in his application for visiting rights and then a New Jersey court ruled in their favour of the second donor, Shawn Sorrell, granting him a few hours each weekend with his biological son, in addition to requiring him to pay US $83 a week in child support.

Now the Yates' are appealing the second decision, having decided against appealing the first.

'Emotionally it's very hard for us,' Sheena Yates told 'All we want is a family, and we can't have kids without an outside party. It's a lot for us to have to deal with. It's not just hard on us, it's hard on the kids, too.'

'It's not fair that you know these guys can make these promises, sign contracts, and then be able to just change their minds, it's not fair,' she told CBS.

Even though the Yates' had consulted a doctor who performed the necessary examinations and prescribed prenatal vitamins, state law in New Jersey only recognises a non-biological parent as a child's legal parent if the insemination process is carried out under the direct supervision of a doctor.

The Yates' decided not to dispute the visiting rights given to their first son's sperm donor as the child was born before the couple were in a civil union. However, their second child was born in 2013 after the couple had entered into a civil union and they also later married in 2014, which they say strengthens their case. They also argue that the precise location of the insemination procedure should be irrelevant.

'We don't think this is an anti-LGBT decision', John Keating, the attorney representing the Yates', told 'But we do think it disparately impacts LGBT couples, and disproportionately impacts lower-income people', referring to cost of fertility services provided by clinics.

'We don't want other couples to have to go through this. They thought they were doing things the right way, they consulted doctors and drew up contracts for the donors. But as this case shows, you can still run into problems,' Keating added to

Susan Sommer of Lambda Legal also commented on the court's traditional way of addressing cases where children are born using alternative methods. 'Our laws really need to catch up to reality [...] There shouldn't be a sort of gotcha simply because a physician was not in the room.'

Lesbian couple fight sperm donor for full custody of their son after he was granted visiting time
MailOnline |  9 February 2015
N.J. gay couple's custody battle with sperm donor could set precedent |  9 February 2015
South Jersey Same-Sex Couple In Custody Battle With Sperm Donor
CBS Philly |  10 February 2015
15 May 2017 - by Dr Mary Yarwood 
A judge in Knox County, Tennessee, has granted a divorced woman the same legal rights as a husband over a child conceived through donor insemination...
11 November 2013 - by María Victoria Rivas Llanos 
The Florida Supreme Court has recognised the parental rights of non-birth, biological mothers in same-sex relationships, under both the Florida and US constitutions....
30 September 2013 - by Antony Starza-Allen 
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21 January 2013 - by Cait McDonagh 
A man has been ordered to pay child support to his ex-wife for two children conceived through a sperm donor and born during the marriage....
29 October 2012 - by Ruth Retassie 
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