Sixteen years ago, an Ontario man agreed to donate sperm to a medical school classmate so she could conceive his child. Now, she’s coming after him for child support:
…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.
(Prediction: a sitcom called “Spuncle” will air for half a season on ABC within the next decade.)
A curious wrinkle to this case is that the sperm donor actually remained very active in the lives of his biological children. It will be interesting to see if the court compares this to an in loco parentis situation, where a person who is not a biological parent nonetheless takes on a parenting role, imposing upon him an obligation to pay child support.
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 children 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.”
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.”
In Nova Scotia and many other jurisdictions, the courts view child support as the right of the child, not something easily signed away by the parent. If the parents come to an agreement that no child support will be paid (or even if the support amount deviates from the amount specified for the payor’s income in the Child Support Guidelines) the Judge will want a reasonable explanation before issuing a consent order or registering a separation agreement.
In other words, even if the parties in an assisted-reproduction case had a signed agreement that the mother wouldn’t seek child support, the court may not uphold its provisions. And that’s why anyone who steps forward as a sperm donor should bear in mind that he may find himself taking on a very large financial burden.