Is Intention Definitive?

When I was a child and my parents did something I didn’t like and I complained, my father would often retort by saying “you should have picked your parents more carefully”.  His humor was not lost on me.  Although as I grew up I came to realize my parental good fortune, it wasn’t until much later that I came to appreciate and understand the legal obligations of being a parent.

Massachusetts law obligates parents to support their children.  On March 6, 2012, the Appellate Court responded to a father’s appeal in which he challenged his obligation to pay child support and in so doing they affirmed the lower court’s decision obligating the father to pay support. 

The facts of the case are not typical; in fact they evolve from the intersection between medical technology and human emotion.   The children in issue are twin daughters born to the father during the course of his marriage, albeit a marriage in the midst of dissolution.  They were born through in vitro fertilization (IVF) using donor sperm and donor eggs, and the father challenged his child support obligations claiming that his consent to his wife’s IVF procedure was consent to the procedure and not his consent to become a parent.  However the Court noted that for purposes of the Massachusetts artificial insemination statute, simple consent to the procedure is enough to confer parental status. The father argued that he had been coerced and had given his consent under duress and that when he gave his consent he did so contingent upon his wife’s agreement that she would “not at any time ask or sue for any other financial obligation” (e.g. child support).  As Massachusetts law does not allow parents to negotiate away their children’s right to be supported, the father’s position was hollow.

In support of its reasoning the Court cited a New York case in which that Court stated that ‘if an unmarried man who biologically causes conception through sexual relations without the premeditated intent of birth is legally obligated to support a child, then the equivalent resulting birth of a child caused by the deliberate conduct of artificial insemination should receive the same treatment in the eyes of the law’.  The Court went on to equate the volitional act of sexual intercourse with the volitional act of providing a signature to consent to the artificial insemination or embryo implantation.  In both instances, the intent of the putative father toward the parental status plays no role.  His volitional actions resulted in the creation of a child, and the law will attach parental responsibilities as a result.

As under Massachusetts law “Every person is responsible for the support of his child born out of wedlock…” and as artificial insemination or IVF has no purpose except to create a child, the intent of the husband that a child will be created strongly supports parental responsibility.

The Massachusetts Appellate Court has spoken and in doing so made it abundantly clear that although a male may have no belief at all that his actions will result in the creation of a child, in cases of unintentional pregnancy, whether through sexual intercourse or IVF, the male participant will be held responsible for child support.

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