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Minimizing the risk of a custody fight after assisted conception

Modern technology has opened up possibilities for numerous people in New York who want to have children, but are unable to for medical reasons. Successful procedures may involve the couple seeking a child to receive sperm, eggs or both from third parties. In other cases, a woman carries the infant to term for the parents.

Obviously, the more people who are involved, the more likely complications are to result. If there is not a true meeting of the minds on each party's rights and responsibilities, a child custody dispute could happen after the baby is born.

In a recent ruling, the Virginia Court of Appeals affirmed that a man who donated sperm to help his friend conceive a child in 2010 was entitled to custody rights over the child. The case has a fairly narrow scope, and it did not take place in New York, but it provides and interesting example of how good intentions can go wrong without a written contract.

The case involved a woman who wanted to raise a child on her own. Her friend agreed to act as sperm donor. They discussed creating a written contract to formalize the arrangement, but never did so.

Using a turkey baster, the woman was able to impregnate herself with the friend's sperm. However, the friendship later became strained, perhaps because of the parties' different expectations of how involved the sperm donor would be in the child-to-be's life. After the child was born, the mother told the man to stay away, and he sued for custody rights.

On appeal, the court ruled that Virginia's assisted conception statute did not deny the donor parental rights. The statute defines assisted conception a pregnancy resulting from "medical technology," and a turkey baster is not a piece of "medical technology," the court wrote.

Again, the best way to proceed with artificial insemination or similar procedures is to ensure that everyone involved knows what parental rights they will have, if any, over the resulting child. A family law attorney can help draw up the necessary contracts.

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