Ed Houben, a 42 year old Dutchman, is the father of 82 children, however doesn’t pay a cent in child support.
Mr Houben initially donated to sperm banks to father children, but then started helping women conceive naturally by engaging in a sexual relationship with them. Due to his high sperm count, Mr Houben is sought after all over the Netherlands and often travels abroad to meet potential mothers, but will only assist in the conception if he feels “well with them if I were their child”. Additionally, the hopeful mothers have to pay for his travel expenses.
Mr Houben avoids paying child support by having all the women he sleeps with sign a contract that waives their legal right to it. Whether this would hold up if challenged by one of the mothers is questionable.
This story engages a complex legal area of the rights and obligations of sperm donors. In Australia, the parents of a child have a duty to maintain the child, and in situations where the parents are not together, this generally involves child support. Under the Child Support (Assessment) Act, a person is the parent of a child if they satisfy one of many situations listed under the Act, one being the presence of their name on the birth certificate. If Mr Houben is listed on any of the children’s birth certificates, in Australia, there would be a prima facie obligation on him to pay child support.
Under the Family Law Act, a child born as a result of artificial conception is given specific consideration as to who their parent is under the law. However, Mr Houben is not simply providing genetic material for an artificial process; he is helping conceive the child naturally which would implicate him as the legal father if he were in Australia. Even if he were not listed on the birth certificate, there is a consideration under the Child Support (Assessment) Act that considers people who have cohabited with the mother for a certain period surrounding the child’s birth as a parent of the child.
If Mr Houben were simply providing genetic material as he was initially, under Australian law he may still be the legal father of the child depending on other circumstances. For example, if a woman and a man are married and cannot conceive naturally, and they turn to artificial means, the child is considered the child of the mother and the other intended parent, her husband, and anyone who provided genetic material is not the parent. However if there is no husband in the picture, the sperm donor is considered the parent under the Family Law Act and so has a duty to maintain the child. Obviously there are some issues as sperm donors are often anonymous.
There are also problems if the situation is reversed, and a sperm donor wishes to have a relationship with their child as in some circumstances they may not be considered the legal parent of the child. In August last year, a lesbian couple were successful in having the biological father’s name taken off the child’s birth certificate in place of the mother’s ex-partner despite the fact that the child and father had an emotional attachment and meaningful relationship.