Parental Rights of Non-Birth-Parents

February 11, 2013
Louis Sternberg

The New York Times recently ran a story about Dr. Jonathan Sporn and his recent legal battles to gain custody of a child he believes to be his son.

Previously, Dr. Sporn and his girlfriend, Leann Leutner, had been attempting to have a child but the couple was unable to do so.  In 2011, Ms. Leutner was artificially inseminated with sperm from an anonymous sperm donor and after finally becoming pregnant, she gave birth to a boy named Lincoln Amory Aurelian Sporn Leutner in July 2012.  Dr. Sporn and Ms. Leutner lived together and raised Lincoln together until Ms. Leutner committed suicide on January 1, 2013.

Because Dr. Sporn was never married to Ms. Leutner and because he never adopted the child, Dr. Sporn is in the unfortunate position of being a legal stranger to Lincoln.  As a result, and regardless of the role that Dr. Sporn played in Lincoln’s life, the law does not recognize Dr. Sporn’s status as Lincoln’s father and therefore he is not automatically granted custody.  If Dr. Sporn has adopted Lincoln or had been married to Ms. Leutner, he would be treated as Lincoln’s birth parent and have parental rights including the right to custody of Lincoln.

Dr. Sporn has filed for custody of Lincoln in New York County Supreme Court but, while the case is being decided, Lincoln remains in foster care.  Further complicating matters for Dr. Sporn is Ms. Leutner’s sister, Susan Sylvester, who also wants custody of Lincoln.

This unfortunate case should serve as a cautionary tale to anyone raising a child despite not being the birth parent of that child.  Preventative measures such as adoption must be taken in order to ensure that such a problem does not occur.