A New York woman decided, over her husband’s vociferous protests, to get artificially inseminated during their marriage. The parties were married in the Mormon faith and their marriage was immediately tumultuous. The wife was physically abusive to her husband. At the same time, she allowed her health to deteriorate by becoming anorexic. She became pregnant with their child, by her husband and, upon giving birth, informed her husband she wanted to become artificially inseminated in an effort to have more children. The husband pleaded with her to not go through with it as he believed their marriage was already rocky enough without adding more children into the situation. Over these objections, the wife was artificially inseminated and became pregnant.
The husband believed, as a Mormon, that he should not get divorced. As such, he remained married to his wife despite knowing she was pregnant via artificial insemination. When the child was born, the wife did not list the husband on the birth certificate and gave the child her maiden name. It was only when the husband felt fearful that the wife could not care for the newborn that he stepped in and assisted, all the while maintaining the child was not his and he would not be responsible for the child.
A few months later, the wife told her husband that she was once again going to get artificially inseminated. Once again, the husband objected and pleaded with her to not go through with it. Once again, the wife gave birth and did not list the husband on the birth certificate and gave the newborn child her maiden name.
The husband then filed for divorce.
New York law provides that any child born to a married woman via artificial insemination with written consent by her husband and her, shall be deemed the legitimate child of the marriage.
The husband argued that his wife and he never saw eye-to-eye and had numerous arguments concerning her unilateral decision to become artificially inseminated. He also argued that he never consented to the artificial insemination either orally or in writing. Finally, he argued that he never intended to accept the wife’s two children born from her being artificially inseminated as his own.
Case closed…? Not so fast. In New York, as in most states, the Court can still hold a husband responsible for the child born during the marriage under the doctrine of equitable estoppel. Basically, this is a fancy way of saying: “Look, we know you are not really the father but, the mother and child have come to rely on you being there, and you never did anything to cause them to think you would not be there for them and so, presto change-o, you are going to be considered the father. Good night and good luck.”
Luckily, herein, the Court made the sensible decision that the husband was not equitably estopped from claiming to not be the father of the two children the wife gave birth to during the marriage via artificial insemination. According to the Court, the husband never encouraged the wife to become artificially inseminated, told her he would never support her or the children, and never held himself out to the public as the children’s father.
The presumption of legitimacy is a doctrine that some think is outdated. In this day and age of artificial insemination, extra-marital affairs leading to pregnancy and the ubiquitous nature of single motherhood, the State’s desire to deem children ‘legitimate’ or ‘out-of-wedlock’ is arcane. If a child is yours, then it is yours and you should be responsible therefor. If the child is not yours, but the mother of the child is married to you, you should not be held responsible therefor and you should not have to prove a negative to overcome the presumption. If the mother of the child is single and you are not married to her, and the child is not yours, but she tells you it is, and you believe her, and later find out that the child is not yours, the State will basically tell you that you are going to continue to be responsible. This seems outrageous as ‘but for’ the mother’s original lie, the man would never have cared for and developed a relationship with the child. This area of law will likely continue to become more complex with each passing year as tradition clashes with modernity.