The sperm donor was at the baby shower. He was even at the birth. He's on the birth certificate and his daughter calls him Daddy. So does her little sister, who has a different father.
These were the key factors which precipitated the High Court's decision yesterday to uphold a Family Court parenting order preventing the mother of the child, court pseudonym Susan Parsons, now married to her partner Margaret, from moving to New Zealand.
It's clear that Robert Masson, the sperm donor's court pseudonym, wanted to be involved in the life of the child.
This was by no means a usual sperm donation arrangement, where a donor can opt out of a relationship with the child. This father was opting-in in every way possible, which is why Michael Kearney, SC, the lawyer representing the father, does not believe the High Court's decision will have a general impact on sperm donors.
"The decision should not be read as exposing sperm donors as a matter of course to rights or obligations in relation to children. The Court expressly did not address that issue," Kearney says.
Sperm donations are not the anonymous journey they once were. In Australia, donors must now consent to the recording and release of identifying and non-identifying information when they donate. However, there is no law which insists that the child of donor genetic material must be informed and the rights of children are often sadly neglected.
There is an assumption that what is best for the child is a family unit with a father and a mother involved. What would be interesting would be to see the outcome if it was an egg donor making the same request.Professor Catherine Mills
One sperm donor I spoke to this week has fathered 11 children across 10 families over an eight year period. He has since had a vasectomy but kept some of his sperm "on ice" in case he ever needed it for his personal use. He says he has already been contacted by two families who wanted to connect and he was motivated by the donor drought.
"I've always been open to being contacted," he says; and he has not, so far anyway, been asked for financial support.
What's key about this case though is the fact that it has dragged new models of parenting into the courts. There are about 15,000 babies born through assisted reproductive technologies in Australia each year. Some are pretty straightforward, the mother's eggs and the father's sperm; but some are less so. It's possible to imagine a child born of an egg with a mitochondrial replacement and a sperm donor, three parents at least; and that's not including what Monash's Professor Catherine Mills calls the social parents.
Who has the rights? The biological parents? The social parents? And what of the children themselves?
Mills, one of Australia's leading bioethicists, who has a particular speciality in reproductive technologies, believes court cases like this might be avoided if individuals embarking on this form of parenting signed what she calls a "precon", a contract or agreement much like a prenup, which would set out the rules of how the parenting would happen.
She says the case raises more general questions about the tensions between new reproductive technologies and our ideas of what parenting means. We used to take it for granted about what makes a parent but Mills argues that the law is trying to keep control of that in a particular way.
"Underpinning this decision, there is an assumption that what is best for the child is a family unit with a father and a mother involved. What would be interesting would be to see the outcome if it was an egg donor making the same request," she says. "What's really at stake is the heteronormative family unit."
Mills believes a preconception contract would prevent some of these cases ending in court, although as University of Queensland's dean of law Patrick Parkinson points out, it's possible to contract your way out of child support with appropriate legal advice but it's not possible to contract your way out of the jurisdiction of the Family Court.
The case has certainly sent panic through the circles of those who've struggled for years to get rights for same sex couples. One said yesterday the case had set back progress in this area by 20 years. Another lawyer who refused to be identified said that dealing with contested same sex custody matters were some of the most contentious cases he'd ever been involved in - particularly the struggle between biological and non-biological parents.
"The biological parent perceives they have a far greater right to the child."
But in this case, Robert Masson was not just the biological parent. He was also the social parent with a keen connection to his daughter and her sibling.
As the model of the Australian family changes, there will be so many more stories like this, so many more court cases. While I have some sympathy for all the parents in these cases, I wonder how the kids feel; and if anyone has ever asked them what they want to do.
- Jenna Price is an academic at the University of Technology Sydney.