Court rules Pennsylvania sperm donor must pay support despite verbal agreement

Friday, July 23rd 2004, 7:49 pm
By: News On 6

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) _ A state appeals court ruled that a verbal agreement between a woman and her sperm donor was invalid, and ordered the man to pay child support for the woman's twins.

The three-judge panel ruled Thursday that the deal between Joel McKiernan and Ivonne Ferguson _ in which McKiernan donated his sperm and would not be obligated to pay any support _ was unenforceable because of ``legal, equitable and moral principles.''

Despite an agreement that appeared to be a binding contract, the father is obligated to provide financial support, the court decided.

``It is the interest of the children we hold most dear,''' wrote Senior Judge Patrick Tamalia.

McKiernan's attorney said he may appeal.

The decision could have implications for sperm and egg donors who expect anonymity, said Arthur Caplan, a professor and medical ethicist at the University of Pennsylvania.

``Anybody who is a sperm donor ought to understand that their identity could be made known to any child that's produced, and they could be seen by the courts as the best place to go to make sure the child has adequate financial support,'' he said Friday.

According to the trial judge's opinion, Ferguson and McKiernan met while working together and had a two-year affair. The relationship waned by late 1993, when Ferguson convinced McKiernan to act as a sperm donor with no responsibility for any child born as a result, the opinion said.

McKiernan, who has paid up to $1,520 a month in support since losing the case at trial, said he was not pleased with the ruling, but declined to comment further.

Ferguson's lawyer, Elizabeth Hoffman, said there was never evidence of an agreement between the two in which McKiernan would not have to pay any support.

``There was no evidence except his word and her word and it was a matter of credibility,'' she said.