Summary: Georgia’s highest court ruled that a baby conceived and born by IFV has no legal father after the parents divorced.
The Georgia Supreme Court inadvertently ruled that babies conceived through in vitro fertilization have no legal father in the state of Georgia. The court was ruling on a specific divorce battle but will likely be used in countless other cases when fathers want out of the parental responsibilities.
The legal battle between Dr. Jocelyn Vanterpool and David Patton had been carrying on for three years. In question was if Patton was legally the father of the children conceived by IVF, which is a medical conception process of extracting eggs, retrieving sperm and manually combining the egg and sperm in a Petri dish. Medical professionals then inject the embryo into the mother. The Superior Court had ruled that he was the father.
There are around 70,000 infants born in 2015 via assisted reproductive technology in the country. According to the Center for Disease Control, about 99 percent of those births were by IVF. In Vanterpool and Patton’s case, the egg and sperm were both from donors.
Patton, who is an active military member, filed for divorce from Vanterpool in 2014. They lived in Savannah, Georgia at the time. The couple had been trying to start a family starting in 2011 when they married. They experienced three miscarriages over the next three years of marriage. She said, “I had three miscarriages and two of them I had to have IVF with my husband. The last IVF was a success, by then my husband was deployed and I had to fly back and forth – so it just took a toll on the pregnancy, so I lost that pregnancy.”
The couple decided to try again. She claims Patton told her they would do whatever it took to have a baby but soon after, in January 2014, he filed for divorce. When they were starting the divorce proceedings, Patton and Vanterpool entered into an agreement to keep undergoing IVF treatment using donor eggs and donor sperm. She traveled to the Czech Republic in November 2014 to undergo the procedure.
Eventually Vanterpool gave birth to twins, a boy and girl, and found herself as a single mother. The baby boy died a few months after birth. In the agreement, he would be listed as the father so the children could receive health insurance. Vanterpool works as a traveling doctor and does not receive steady benefits. She said of their discussion, “I don’t want any child support from you, however I want them to be legitimated and I want insurance.” Since he is in the military, the insurance would have been at no cost to him.
Four days after she underwent the procedure, the final judgment on the divorce was entered in the courts. In the final judgment, no children were mentioned because she was not yet pregnant and her attorney did not think to include the possibility of them.
When paternity came up, Patton refused to assist her and told her to take him back to court so she did. She requested that the superior court discard the divorce decree so her daughter could be part of the agreement. Her motion was denied. She then filed a paternity action against her ex-husband, saying he provided written, informed consent for the IVF to happen, which created “irrebuttable presumption of paternity.” Court documents show she also sought child support.
He claims he did not consent to the IVF and his attorney says he only signed the form because she refused to sign the divorce papers otherwise.
When she filed the paternity action, the Superior Court ruled that he was the father. Patton appealed, taking the case to the state’s highest court. They granted his appeal in September 2016 and released their ruling on October 16, 2017. The court based their opinion on a law from 1964. There was an acknowledgement only of artificial insemination, not IVF, as a fake form of conception making Patton not the legal father of the children.
Vanterpool is perhaps the most baffled the court disregarded the agreement he signed in front of a notary public.
Do you think Patton should be listed as the legal father? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.
To learn more about other in vitro fertilization issues, read these articles:
- In Vitro Fertilization Agreements Are Binding
- Appeals Court Rules Jason Patric Is Legal Parent of IVF-Conceived Child
- Catholic School Teacher Fired for In Vitro Fertilization