Actor Jason Patric is legally the parent of his son, for whom he donated sperm to ex-girlfriend Danielle Schreiber in 2009 - but he may not be entitled to custody.
California's 2nd District was asked to consider - again - what legal rights Patric has as the biological parent of a child born through in vitro fertilization, and the decision brings mixed news for the Sleepers star.
Patric's case first appeared before this court in 2014, after a family law court ruled that relevant code prevented him from establishing parentage. The appeals court reversed the ruling, finding that the code only precludes a parent from establishing paternity based on his or her "biological connection to the child."
The suit was then remanded to family court where, this time, the judge held that Patric met the state's requirements to be a presumed parent. The court awarded Schreiber sole custody for six months, after which Patric would share custody. He was also ordered to retroactively pay child support.
Schreiber appealed that decision, which brought the case back before the 2nd District. She argued that the court "improperly relied upon Jason's biological connection in finding him a presumed parent" and that the code contains a presumption against awarding custody to "a parent who has perpetrated domestic violence." During the course of the custody fight, Schreiber told Rolling Stone that Patric was psychologically and physically abusive.
The 55-page opinion issued Thursday by justices Thomas Willhite and Nora Manella and presiding justice Norman Epstein goes into great length about the duo's relationship leading up to the birth of the child.
A dramatic romantic history may not seem relevant but, here, it is vital. Patric isn't some anonymous donor from a sperm bank. He and Schreiber were in a romantic relationship for several years - during which time they actively tried to conceive a child. After their 2008 breakup, Schreiber was considering having a child using a sperm donor and Patric sent her a long, handwritten letter detailing why that donor should be him. The note stated that he had doubts about whether he was fit to be a father but was sure Schreiber was "meant to be a mother."
The pair began dating again in late 2010, shortly after their son's first birthday party, but the relationship was strained and barely lasted another year. The custody battle began in the summer of 2012.
Fast forward nearly five years, and the court has ruled that the family court's decision was based on Patric's actions after his son's birth not his genetic contribution to his creation. (Read the opinion in full below.)
"The fact that Jason initially rejected the idea of being a father is irrelevant because - with Danielle's encouragement and permission - he slowly developed a father-son relationship with [his son]," states the decision. "The state has an interest in protecting those kinds of relationships, even when they are belatedly developed, because they "'give young children social and emotional strength and stability.'"
The 2nd Circuit's decision isn't all good news for Patric, though. The panel conditionally reversed the family court's decision as to custody, finding that Patric may not have adequately rebutted Schreiber's arguments relating to the abuse allegations.
"In the present case, the family law court addressed the section 3044 presumption, and expressly found that it would be rebutted by Jason's completion of individual counseling and both parties' participation in joint counseling," states the decision. "Although we have concluded that the court could not award Jason joint custody based upon its finding that the presumption would be rebutted, it is possible that on remand the court will find that the presumption now has been rebutted."
If the family court determines Patric has completed the requirements, it may reinstate its award of joint custody.