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BY AJ TRAGER
MICHIGAN – A custody case filed against a local lesbian woman will soon be presented before a Wayne County Judge, as the children’s biological father seeks full custody.
Annette Burgan, 44, has three children. The metro Detroit woman elected to seek out a suitable candidate that would enable her and her partner at the time to use the services of a sperm donor bank in California to conceive. Eleven years later she is fighting to remain the legal parent of her children.
Burgan’s first child was born in 2004, with twins following in 2007, all conceived through in vitro fertilization, a form of assisted reproductive technology where the egg and sperm are manually combined in a laboratory dish and the created embryo is later transferred to the uterus.
In 2001 Burgan joined an online community aimed at connecting LGBT people together to have children. A Los Angeles gay man – Stacey Teruya, 60 – answered her ad, discussing that he’d like to provide the sperm for Burgan and initially stated that he would not pursue a role as the child(ren)’s father and would serve solely as the donor.
Over the course of the children’s lives, Teruya has come to visit a couple of times a year and has gotten to know them. However, after allegations of inappropriate sexual misconduct and an investigation by Child Protective Services, Burgan decided to end Teruya’s visiting rights to the children. As a result, Teruya is now seeking custody of the three children.
“When women go to apply for state aid, and when social services asks them how the child came into being, if the answer is ‘assisted reproductive technology’ they do not pursue child support against the sperm donor,” Racine Miller, Burgan’s lawyer, said. “Before anybody can have the obligation of child support or the benefit of parenting time they have to have signed an acknowledgment of parentage, signed the birth certificate or have an order of affiliation.”
A release was signed by both parties, releasing any claim for paternity or parenting time to be granted to Teruya, yet he argues in his preliminary testimony that Burgan initially agreed upon co-parenting rights.
Miller filed a “motion to dismiss due to a lack of standing.” Her legal argument states “that the Uniform Parentage Act has not been enacted by the State of Michigan, but should help guide the court because there is no law in the state about sperm donors or egg donors.”
The Uniform Parentage Act establishes standards and rules for genetic testing, a process to establish paternity through adjudication and a comprehensive scheme for establishing paternity through voluntary acknowledgement. Under these processes, a sperm donor could not be entitled to custody or paternal rights. So far, seven states have enacted a version of the California law.
The signed release contract was crafted by Zygen Laboratories, the company that facilitated the sperm donation to Burgan. The contract indicates that the man waives any and all rights as it relates to parentage. But it carries no weight in Michigan, because the state currently has no statute for the rights of a sperm donor. Because the children are born out of wedlock, Teruya has the state right to file for paternity.
Christopher Drouillard, attorney for Teruya, will use the Michigan Paternity Act as the basis of his argument, as Teruya is concerned over Burgan’s parenting skills and claims the children know him as “daddy.”
“We are absolutely willing to resolve this matter. If Mr. Teruya wants to go back to the way things were and drop this issue, I’m sure something can be arranged,” Miller said. “I don’t think Ms. Burgan would be upset if he wants to come in four times a year, visit the house, see the kids and do the face time thing; but not with the ‘I’m going to take your kids away,’ thing.”
The trial is set to begin Jan. 13 in the Wayne County Circuit Court. Honorable Lynne A. Pierce will preside over the trial. Pierce received her degree from the Detroit College of Law in 1979.
“This could happen to anyone. If my children were born from a sperm donor because my husband was shooting blanks, if they were under 18, the guy could come back today, be interfering in our lives and get parenting time and everything else,” Miller said. “The judge used to be a juvenile court judge, so she knows the process I want to do.”