Maryland high court: married fathers and IVF with donated sperm

The area of assisted reproduction raises major issues concerning parental rights and obligations.

In 2016, the highest court in Maryland, its Court of Appeals, issued an important decision about the legal parenthood of husbands married to women who undergo in vitro fertilization, called IVF, during the marriage. In Sieglein v. Schmidt, the court determined that a state statute declaring a child conceived through "artificial insemination" to be the legal child of a husband consenting to his wife undergoing the procedure applied equally when the procedure was "in vitro fertilization" using donated egg and sperm.

It followed then that Stephen Sieglein, as the child's legal father, could be required to pay child support.

Sieglein and Laura Schmidt were married about four years, during which time Schmidt underwent IVF using donated sperm since Sieglein had previously had a vasectomy. Both Schmidt and Sieglein signed a consent form to the procedure. After the birth, Sieglein was listed as the baby boy's father on the birth certificate.

Maryland Estates and Trusts Section 1-206(b) provides that: "A child conceived by artificial insemination of a married woman with the consent of her husband is the legitimate child of both of them for all purposes. Consent of the husband is presumed."

The high court had to decide whether IVF should be included within the definition of artificial insemination for purposes of the statute, beginning with the plain meaning of the language. The court looked at several dictionaries and similar resources and decided that because artificial insemination was capable of several different meanings, the court would need to look at the intention of the legislature in passing the law.

The statute took effect first in 1969 out of concern for the legitimacy of children conceived through artificial insemination and the impact of that legal status on their inheritance rights. The court decided that the law addresses the status of a child conceived using donated sperm "during an artificial reproductive technique" (other than surrogacy) with a husband's consent and that IVF is encompassed within the definition of artificial insemination for this purpose.

As assisted reproductive techniques continue to evolve and in light of their frequent use by same-sex couples, this area of Maryland law is becoming more and more important as well as more complex. It is smart for any spouse contemplating the birth of a child through these means, whether a potential father or mother, to seek legal advice from an experienced lawyer as early as possible.

Should later parentage, custody or support matters arise, the need for guidance by an attorney can be especially crucial to the outcome of the matter.