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Informal sperm donor is legal parent, rules Australian court

Jen Willows

Progress Educational Trust

25 June 2019

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[BioNews, London]

The Australian High Court has ruled that a man who provided sperm to a friend is the legal father of her child.

The girl was born to Susan Parsons, as a result of an informal arrangement with a friend, Robert Masson, to conceive through home insemination. Parsons met Margaret, whom she subsequently married, while she was trying to conceive using Masson's sperm. The couple went on to conceive a second child using an American sperm donor. 

The high court judge accepted that Masson agreed to provide sperm with the intention of acting as a co-parent: 'He believed that he was fathering the child and would thus support and care for her. His name was entered on the child's birth certificate as her father.'

Although the child never resided with Masson, court documents showed he had an 'ongoing role in the child's financial support, health, education and general welfare'. The girl refers to Masson as 'daddy', and he moved house to be closer to her. 

The case came to court because Parsons wished to move her family to New Zealand. She applied to court to remove Masson's name on the first child's birth certificate and replace it with Margaret's. As a legal parent Masson could prevent his child from moving overseas, if he was ruled to be only a donor he could not.

The case has brought Commonwealth and state laws into juxtaposition. A 2017 family court ruling that applied the 1975 Family Law Act decided that Parsons and her partner were the intended parents of the second child, but that Masson was the father of the first. The decision was based on the fact that the couple were not in a 'de facto' relationship when the child was conceived, but that their relationship at that time was 'developing'.

Parsons appealed that decision, asking the High Court to determine the definition of a legal parent in the Australian Family Law Act, and its relationship with state laws – especially the New South Wales Status of Children Act which contains an irrebuttable presumption that: 'If a woman…becomes pregnant by means of a fertilisation procedure using any sperm obtained from a man who is not her husband, that man is presumed not to be the father of any child born as a result of the pregnancy.'

The court agreed that the presumption did apply, but concluded that Masson did qualify as a father under the 1975 act because had acted as a parent 'according to the ordinary, accepted English meaning of "parent"'.


Australia's top court rules sperm donor is 11-year-old's legal parent
CNN |  19 June 2019
Can a sperm donor be a legal parent? In landmark decision, the High Court says yes
The Conversation |  19 June 2019
High Court agrees sperm donor is father as he was involved in girl's life
The Age |  19 June 2019
Sperm donor who helped parent child named legal father
The Australian |  19 June 2019

© Copyright Progress Educational Trust

Reproduced with permission from BioNews, an email and online sources of news, information and comment on assisted reproduction and genetics.

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Date Added: 25 June 2019   Date Updated: 25 June 2019
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