The Impact of the Changing Definition of "Family"
August 2012-Our definitions of family have changed a lot over the past few decades. It used to be that when someone said "family", everyone thought of a mother, a father and children. Now, there are so many different shapes and sizes of family that this old stereotypical image comes side by side with dozens of other images.
While there are lots of benefits to the expanded definition of family, it also raises new legal issues that are starting to make their way through the courts. One of the most well known debates has been the same-sex marriage debate, which has been resolved in Canada but is still ongoing in the USA.
One of the newest issues coming up is the parental rights of sperm donors to have a relationship with their biological children. In-vitro fertilization (IVF) is becoming more common for couples starting families. Along with the increase in IVF, there has been an increased focus on the legal issues that go along with it. In most cases with an anonymous sperm donor, these issues won't come up. In cases where couples ask a friend or acquaintance to help them, things often get complicated.
There is a case going through the courts now that deals with just such a situation. A couple entered an agreement with a friend of theirs, we'll call him Joe. Joe signed a contract saying he would not have any contact with the child, we'll call him Alex, after birth. Now, Joe is trying to get the courts to grant him parental rights, including access to Alex.
Joe asked the court to order that he could have access with Alex while the case works its way through the courts. The judge has decided that this would be too risky for Alex, who is now 22 months old. Introducing another parental figure to Alex now would be too confusing and too disruptive of his life.
A lot of issues will have to be considered by the court here, such as weighing the benefits to Alex of knowing his biological father against the risks of exposing Alex to a complete disruption to his life and his routines by adding a new parent, second household and new family members.
The courts will also think about the impact of their decision on future cases. In this case, the parents know the sperm donor and the child is still young so the introduction of his father may be able to be done with less disruption. If the courts grant parental rights, though, what will happen when a 10 or 12 year old child is involved? Or when it is an anonymous sperm donor who the parents have not met?
Clearly, there are very strong arguments on both sides of this issue and will ultimately be the job of the courts to weigh those arguments and decide what is best for the child here and children in future cases.