Court Rules Parental Rights Cannot Be Terminated by Contract

The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled recently that parental rights cannot be terminated merely by a contract entered into by the parties involved, rather parental rights can be terminated only by State law under specific conditions. (1)

This question arose in connection with a case of a single woman who wanted a child and her male friend who agreed to be a sperm donor. Prior to conception, the two entered into a contract whereby the male donor gave up all of his parental rights and responsibilities; the woman assumed complete responsibility for the child. (1)

The birth certificate of the child born from this procedure listed no one as the father. Following the child’s birth, the two individuals involved in the conception signed another consent order confirming that the male surrendered his parental rights and the female retained all responsibility for the child. That order was sent to the court. (2)

The court held that termination of parental rights is controlled by statute, not by personal contracts entered into by individuals. Under New Jersey law, parental rights can be terminated only under certain circumstances, including when a parent is found to be unfit; a child has been removed from a parent’s custody by the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS); or in the case of an adoption. New Jersey law does not provide for the contractual termination of parental rights. (2)

The statute was adopted in an effort to avoid complicating matters between husband, wife and child when that child was conceived by artificial insemination involving an anonymous donor. Normally parental rights are established by the genetic connection between the biological father and child. However, according to the statute, the donor “of semen provided to a licensed physician for use in artificial insemination” is not considered to be the child’s father. As a result, the donor has no rights or responsibilities relating to the child. (3)

In the case in question, no physician was involved in the process. As a result, the court found that the statute does not apply here and the donor’s parental rights cannot be terminated by contract either. However, the court did recognize the difference between the existence of parental rights and the exercise of them. Since the donor in this case had chosen not to exercise his parental rights, the court said it would not impose them. (2)



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