The State of Kansas has sued Topeka resident William Marotta for about $6,000 it says he owes for his three-year-old daughter. The case has drawn nationwide attention largely because Marotta is a sperm donor for a lesbian couple, Angela Bauer and Jennifer Schreiner. For example, read about it here (USA Today, 1/2/13)) and here (Topeka Capital-Journal, 12/31/12). The case has also been reported by ABC, CBS and The Huffington Post among many others.
Back in 2009, Bauer and Schreiner advertised for a sperm donor. They already had seven adopted children as old as 22, but they apparently wanted a biological child. Marotta answered the ad and the three signed an agreement under which Bauer and Schreiner agreed to not seek financial support from him and he agreed to not pursue parental rights. The two women further agreed to not place Marotta’s name on the birth certificate when the child was born. In due course, Marotta provided a container of his semen to the women who used it to inseminate Schreiner. She became pregnant with a daughter who was born in 2010. Everyone kept their part of the agreement they signed.
But then, as so often happens, Bauer and Schreiner split up and Bauer contracted an incapacitating illness. Lacking her income, Schreiner sought and received public assistance from the state to the tune of about $6,000. Now the state is seeking reimbursement of that amount from Marotta. As the Topeka Capital-Journal described it,
Bauer was diagnosed this past March with what she only would describe as “a significant illness” that prevents her from working. Schreiner then went to the state to obtain health insurance for their daughter. The DCF demanded Schreiner provide the sperm donor’s name, claiming if she didn’t it would deny any health benefits because she was withholding information.Marotta is resisting the state’s effort.
Marotta said Monday he doesn’t resent Schreiner’s having given the DCF his name.According to Kansas law, an agreement of the type signed by Marotta, Bauer and Schreiner is only enforceable if the insemination procedure is performed by physician. Since no doctor was involved, the agreement is void and Marotta has to pay. Having paid, he is then entitled to assert his parental rights although there’s no indication he intends to do so. Marotta is married and he and his wife provide foster care to children in need.
“I resent the fact that Jennifer was pressured into doing that in the first place,” he said. “That was wrong — wrong by the state.”
I must say, the fact that this case is getting so much attention perplexes me. Now, it’s true that the Kansas statute requiring a doctor to perform the insemination is a strange and, to my mind, pointless one. What the connection is between Marotta’s privacy and Schreiner’s use or non-use of a doctor escapes me entirely. I suppose the state sees a need to protect the small industry that’s grown up around assisted insemination. Clinics that do that routinely maintain the anonymity of the donors, so, in situations like Marotta’s, the state would be unable to learn the identity of the father and the mother would be unable to provide it. In the event, however, Schreiner did know Marotta’s identity and was required by law to provide it to the state so it could recoup its payments to her.
Marotta Case Just Like Millions of Others With Non-Sperm Donor DadsAnd in that way, this is a case just like millions of others nationwide. Those don’t generally involve sperm donors or lesbian mothers, of course; they involve single mothers and fathers. She gets pregnant and eventually receives some form of state welfare; the state comes to him for reimbursement. It happens countless times every day of the year. The State of Kansas is being not one bit more intrusive or overbearing toward Marotta than it’s been to countless other men for decades.
So why the big national whoop-di-doo about this case? Why not report one of those millions of other cases of single mothers being forced to cough up the names of the fathers of their children in exchange for health care for the child? It’s called “paternity establishment” and it happens all the time, so what’s the big deal about William Marotta, Jennifer Schreiner and Angela Bauer?
One possibility is that they had an agreement, but does anyone seriously pretend that states will ever allow mothers and fathers to hide behind a piece of paper to prevent those states from recovering welfare payments? That will not happen in a million years, and a very cogent argument can be made for why it shouldn’t. After all, we want mothers and fathers to be responsible for their children, and paying their expenses, where the parents are able to do so, is one good way in which to show that responsibility. Do we really want the state to just fork over the money to support the children of single mothers?
Another possibility is that the state held health insurance for the little girl hostage until Schreiner told the Department of Children and Families who the dad was. That’s a pretty hard line to adopt considering the little girl has absolutely no say in who knows what about her father. But again, exactly that refusal of state assistance has been the policy of the state and federal governments for many years, and no one has so much as peeped. Indeed, early efforts at paternity establishment were met with stony silence by single mothers. It was only with increased sanctions for refusal to name the father that paternity establishment became at all reliable. In the ensuing decades, millions of mothers have been browbeaten into revealing the name of the father and USA Today, ABC, CBS, et al haven’t printed a word about it. So the question persists, “why now?”
I don’t have a good answer to that question, but what’s plain is that the press is now exhibiting a solicitude for William Marotta and the woman who bore his child, that it’s never shown for everyday dads who have sex with women who give birth to their children and then receive state benefits. If what the State of Kansas is doing is questionable in Marotta’s case, it’s been questionable all along.
However the courts decide his case, a couple of things need to be made clear. First, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Men, never ever believe that you can sign an agreement relieving yourself of child support obligations. You can’t. I don’t care how official the wording sounds or how sincere the mother of the child is; the state doesn’t care what you sign. Into the bargain, if the mother decides at any time to renege on the deal, she can do so. She can come to you at any time for child support and get it, agreement or no agreement. That’s because those agreements are considered to be void as against public policy. They’re not enforceable, so don’t try to. If you want a child, understand that, in all likelihood, you’ll end up supporting it. If you don’t want a child, wear a condom, get a vasectomy or don’t have sex.
Second, men should be aware that what works against them can also work for them. So, if William Marotta had decided that, contrary to his intention when he signed the agreement, he wanted a relationship with his daughter, Bauer and Schreiner could no more have used their agreement to prevent it than he can now use it to avoid repaying the state. The agreement is as void for them as it is for him.
Third, oddly enough, once Marotta pays the state and begins paying child support, he’ll have parental rights. It makes no difference that he’s never had anything to do with the little girl. Indeed, if this had all transpired when she was, say, 16, he’d still have the right to establish a relationship with her. As long as he’s paying child support, he has parental rights. That of course is a strange result, given the fact that, in other situations such as adoption, a father’s rights can be extinguished for even the briefest of gaps in his relationship with his child. So it goes.