A column by father advocate Glenn Sacks talks about the case of Illinois resident Richard O. Phillips, who six years ago engaged in oral sex with then-girlfriend Sharon Irons. No big deal, except two years later when Mr. Phillips was served with a paternity suit.
DNA tests confirmed that Mr. Phillips indeed was the child's father and he was ordered to pay $800 in monthly child support. Ms. Irons eventually admitted that she saved his sperm and impregnated herself and he followed up with a suit of his own, claiming emotional distress from the incident.
His suit claims he was haunted by "feelings of being trapped in a nightmare" and that he had trouble sleeping and eating.
He also claimed theft of the sperm, which is where the lawsuit gets truly surreal. The court sided with Ms. Irons and dismissed the suit but it was overturned on appeal. While the higher court agreed that Ms. Irons "deceitfully engaged in sexual acts, which no reasonable person would expect could result in pregnancy," it also decided that the sperm was not stolen:
"She asserts that when plaintiff 'delivered' his sperm, it was a gift... There was no agreement that the original deposit would be returned upon request."
While the child belongs to Mr. Phillips, he had no reasonable expectation that having oral sex would result in conception. So what are his paternity rights?
Men who impregnate women have very few legal rights with respect to the pregnancy, according to FindLaw columnist and law professor Sherry F. Colb. Quite simply and for good reason, a pregnant woman's choice to carry a child to term trumps the father's wishes and he is legally liable for child support if she does.
As for Mr. Phillips' legitimate grievances over unwillingly fathering a child: It's certainly unfair, but all that matters in the eyes of the law is that he is a father and needs to take responsibility for his child.
- Paternity FAQ (FindLaw)
- Twins Born With Different Fathers: Paternity Problems? (FindLaw Law & Family Life Blog)
- Directory of Chicago Family Law Attorneys (FindLaw)