NJ Same-Sex Couple’s Custody Battle with Sperm Donor Could Set Precedent

Baby in gray hat

A same-sex couple has challenged the parental rights of sperm donors in a court case that could change New Jersey law governing conception via artificial insemination.

According to NJ.com, lesbian couple Sheena and Tiara Yates gave birth to two sons conceived via artificial insemination performed in their home. (The couple used two different sperm donors.) Prior to attempting insemination, the Yates required each donor to sign a contract relinquishing legal paternity.

However, both men later changed their minds, and each filed a separate motion seeking visitation with their respective biological sons. Although the Yates contested the donors’ claim to parenthood, both were successful in establishing visiting rights.

The legal basis for why these sperm donors could sign off on their legal parental rights, only to go back later and claim them?

The matter falls into a loophole of New Jersey law. Even though the Yates had consulted a doctor who performed health exams prior to conception, state law in New Jersey only recognizes a non-biological parent as a child’s legal parent when the insemination process is carried out under the direct supervision of a doctor. The Yates chose to carry out the artificial insemination in their home (also known as alternative insemination) without physician supervision, and so, according to the courts, they were not covered by this rule. This opened the door for the sperm donors to assert their rights as fathers.

The Yates are in the process of appealing the decision which granted the second father/sperm donor visitation, but have decided against appealing the decision made in the first father’s case. The couple has decided on this route because their older child was born before the they had entered into a civil union. The Yates were in a civil union when their second child was born in 2013. They later married in 2014 shortly after same-sex marriage became legal in New Jersey.

The outcome of the case could have a far-reaching impact for New Jersey couples who conceive via the unregulated practice of alternative insemination, many of whom are same-sex couples or infertile couples who want to have a baby, but can’t afford the cost of physician-supervised artificial insemination.

As for the Yates, their legal issues are taking a personal toll.

According to Sheena Yates (via NJ.com). “Emotionally it’s very hard for us . . . 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.”

We will update this blog as new details emerge…