Website sperm donor liable for child support after court rules that conception was not artificial

A UK man who donated sperm to a married woman he met via a sperm donor website has been ordered to pay child support.  The pair met via a website advertising sperm donors and started trying to conceive artificially, before they began an affair.  The High Court heard evidence from both sides and rejected the man’s evidence that the couple only started having sex after the child was conceived, finding that the child was conceived through ‘natural insemination’ – in other words sexual intercourse – rather than through artificial insemination.

This meant that the donor was not legally a sperm donor, and so like any other biological father was liable to pay child support.  In a rare move for a children case, he was also ordered to pay all the legal costs of the woman’s husband and three quarter’s of the woman’s legal costs, since the court decided he had not told the truth.

What makes a legal sperm donor?

Men who agree to donate their sperm are not protected from financial responsibilities just because they agree this with the birth mother or describe themselves as a donor.  They are only sheltered from financial claims if they:

1) donate via a UK licensed clinic, or

2) donate by artificial insemination to a married or civilly partnered couple, with the consent of both partners.

In this case, the birth mother was married.  Had the court decided that conception took place by artificial insemination, it would next have had to determine whether the birth mother’s husband consented (and if so he, rather than the sperm donor, would have been the child’s legal father).  However, given that conception occurred through intercourse, there was no need to go to the next step, and the sperm donor was financially responsible.

Lessons for other sperm donors

The case shows the risks of conceiving through donation outside the framework of regulated treatment at clinics.  It’s been an expensive lesson for the donor in this case.  Other men considering donating via websites should be clear about how the law works, and whether their plans might put them on the hook financially.  If they donate via ‘NI’ they can forget any legal protection whatsoever.

You can read the judgment in this case in full here.

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