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Doctor sues gay friend for child support, 16 years after he first donated sperm to her

National Post National Post 27/10/2016 Ashley Csanady

In 2000, a gay man donated sperm to help a friend from medical school conceive one child, and then another.

Now, 16 years later, the mother, a medical doctor, is suing him for child support using a loophole in Ontario law that means known sperm and egg donors can be held liable for child support based on biology alone.

The Liberal members of committee who heard concerns about the proposed act, which is intended to provide greater clarity to parenting laws in Ontario, said the government intends to tweak the bill before it goes for a final vote.

Here are three things lawyers said they should consider changing:

1) As written, the bill gives more protection to a man who donates sperm at home than through a clinic if he signs an agreement beforehand with the woman accepting his donation. That means, a man who has intercourse with a woman — after signing an agreement she alone would parent the child — or who donates sperm for her to inseminate herself with at home, could be better legally protected than a man who donates his sperm in a clinic. That’s a loophole lawyers said should be closed. There also are concerns this could, theoretically, allow men to get women to sign documents clearing them of patrimonial duties before, say, a one-night stand.

2) The bill as written gives biological fathers more rights to determine what happens to their offspring. While this may be intended to help balance the scales of family justice, the most extreme unintended consequence could be that rape victims theoretically could be forced to get their rapist to approve an adoption. It could mean mothers who are unsure of their child’s parentage might need to figure that out before putting a child up for adoption. However, experts say this was likely not the intent of the legislation, and MPPs in committee suggested this could be fixed through amendments before the bill becomes law.

3) The bill gives surrogates a seven-day “cooling off” period before the intended parent of the child take custody. It’s intended to streamline the legal process, but experts said it could make things more complicated. What if a baby is in the neo-natal intensive care unit, the surrogate has been discharged and medical decisions need to be made during the first seven days? Who makes the call?

“He’s really being punished for the fact that he’s a known donor,” and that she didn’t buy sperm from an American bank since that practice remains illegal in Canada, said Shirley Levitan, the lawyer for Michael Ranson.

A bill before the provincial legislature to amend the Children’s Law Reform Act could close the loophole, but it could be too late for Ranson — or other donors who stay involved in their biological children’s lives and don’t know the law, Levitan said.

Ranson and Dr. Amie Cullimore met in medical school in 1991, court documents say. After they finished school, he moved to the U.S. and then Europe while she stayed in Canada. But in 2000 she called on him to fulfil a decades-old promise: donate his sperm so she could undergo IVF and become a mother. Eventually, she would have two babies using those embryos, both of whom are now teenagers.

Ranson’s legal team say he agreed to be a “spuncle” — fertility law slang for known sperm donors who stay involved in their offspring’s lives. As a gay man, he had no intention of having his own children but was happy to help his old friend, and to remain in contact with the kids as a member of their extended family.

“The problem is he never would have donated if had he known she was seeking any financial support from him,” said Kelly Jordan of Jordan Battista LLP and Levitan’s co-counsel.

Cullimore, in her application first filed in 2015 in an Ontario court seeking child support, claims Ranson has acted the part of the father the teens’ whole lives. (Cullimore’s lawyer responded to a request for comment by telling the National Post not to publish the story and did not address an emailed series of questions.)

His parents acted as grandparents; the teens met Ranson’s extended family on holidays. Ranson paid for trips for the boys to visit him in Europe, or to take them to Disneyland. In 2011, he gave Cullimore $22,000 to help out with costs, a chunk of which is now in Registered Education Savings Plans to pay for the teens’ pending post-secondary education.

After the second child was born in 2002, the pair signed an agreement giving her full custody, as well as power over education and health care. It said she “would not look to (Ranson) for any financial support.”

But now she’s arguing he has acted as a father all along.

“They clearly view him as their ‘dad,’” the application states, adding the teens exchange emails with him, he signs them “dad” and as recently as 2015 they spent a week with him and his partner in Italy. “The Applicant Mother has tried to pay for all activities, including ongoing child-care costs of over $800 per month as she works 24-hour shifts (as a medical doctor), but she can no longer afford to do so.”

Cullimore makes just under $250,000 a year as a gynecologist, obstetrician and university professor, the documents show, while Ranson made just under Cdn$280,000 in his most recent post with the World Bank in Europe.

If Cullimore is successful in her case, Ranson will be on the hook for four years of retroactive child support, since 2012, as well as other expenses, including post-secondary education. His contributions would be “significant” and based on a grid used to determine child support payments, his lawyers said.

“He feels like now he’s being punished for having been a good spuncle,” Jordan said. “How does he maintain a good relationship with these kids now?

“This is not something he signed on for.”

The inverse of this story has played out a number of times in Canada: in 2014 a lesbian couple “said they were hounded” by the family of man who donated his sperm so they could have children; in 2012, after a Montreal woman died of cancer, her sperm donor fought and won a case to access their child.

But Levitan said neither she nor Jordan, both of whom have been practising family and fertility law since the early 1990s, have seen a known sperm donor, or “spuncle,” sued for child support.

Bill 28, the All Families Are Equal Act, is currently before committee at the Ontario legislature. Levitan said it has some language that would protect men such as her client in the future, but only if they sign agreements before donating sperm. She said the bill as written extends stronger protections to sperm donors when children are conceived outside of a clinic — either through sexual intercourse or at-home insemination kits. She appeared last week before committee to propose amendments to ensure all donors are protected (and other issues with the sweeping bill are addressed.)

A spokesperson for the attorney general said the bill “may be amended” in committee.

“While Bill 28 would not change the law pertaining to child support, it would amend the Children’s Law Reform Act to clarify the law regarding the parental status of all of the parties involved in conceiving a child,” the spokesperson said. “The bill also contains provisions dealing with persons who provide reproductive material or an embryo to conceive a child.”

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