The End of Anonymous Sperm Donors?

More and more government authorities are declaring that the right to know who your biological parents are is a “basic human right”. Just this week, a court in Germany found that children of sperm donors have a right to know who their fathers are. Given that about 100,000 kids in Germany have been born to sperm donors, this court decision could have major implications.

Yet Germany isn’t the only country moving in this direction; the UK already keeps records of donors and requires that children be allowed to know the identity of their biological father when they turn 18.  Other countries have been considering similar legislation.

What do you think? Should it be a basic right for children to be able to know who their biological father is, or does this requirement only cause disruption of otherwise well-functioning households? And if the child already has a mother and father, does it make sense to require telling a child about their “other (i.e., biological) father”?

These are tough questions. We only hope that the debate is respectful and all sides of the argument are heard fully.


Florida Judge Recognizes 3-Parent Family

Yes, even Florida can show leadership in recognizing parenting partnerships! There was a groundbreaking case this week in Florida, in which a Miami-Dade judge legally recognized a three-parent family, with a single dad and a lesbian couple as the child’s three legal parents.

Florida is not the only state to have recognized three-parent families; other states have already done so, mainly via court rulings. California’s legislature approved recognition of multiple-parent families this year but the legislation was vetoed by the Governor.

It is great to see states recognizing the complex nature of today’s modern families – whether a single dad raising children with a lesbian couple, or a stepparent who has taken on the role of “real” parent along with the child’s biological parents, multiple-parent recognition provides greater legal security and protection for the modern families of today.

You can read more about the recent Florida decision here.


When A Parent Is Not A Parent

Prospective parenting partners, take note: how you plan your family doesn’t always match up with how the law is written, so you need to know what the law says, as the Jonathan Sporn case that is currently playing out in NY State so painfully points out. The below well-written article by Ginia Bellafonte for the New York Times makes us consider when the law doesn’t keep up with the realities:

It is easy to interpret the popularity of a network television series like “Modern Family” as proof that we have mainstreamed the various and sweeping ways domestic life has reshaped itself over the past two decades. A nation of squares would not embrace a comedy about a badly dressed, middle-aged gay couple raising an adopted Vietnamese baby, we tell ourselves, no matter what they might say in Copenhagen or Berlin.

Gay rights are moving forward; single women now account for 41 percent of all births. Americans build caring families with lovers, friends and neighbors; from one-night stands and anonymous providers of genetic material. And yet, even in a place as progressive as New York, the legal system has been slow to synchronize to these altered realities.

It is hard to imagine anyone experiencing this more viscerally right now than a man named Jonathan Sporn, a 54-year-old pharmaceuticals executive living on the Upper West Side, who in a sense has fallen prey to a system that excessively privileges the conventional family models from which there seems to be a growing exodus.

According to a custody petition Dr. Sporn filed in Manhattan Supreme Court last month, he and his girlfriend, Leann Leutner, had a baby boy — Lincoln Amory Aurelian Sporn Leutner — last July, with the help of in vitro fertilization. The couple had issues conceiving but found success with the use of an anonymous sperm donor. Dr. Sporn and Ms. Leutner, both of whom had divorced previous partners, were not married. But they had lived together since 2010 and were deeply committed to starting a family.

Then in mid-December, Ms. Leutner, a lawyer at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett, left with Lincoln for New Jersey, where a few days before the end of the year she got a new apartment. On New Year’s Day, she committed suicide. Her death, according to the petition, followed previous attempts to take her own life and a long history of psychological difficulty made worse by postpartum depression. Her departure for New Jersey had been preceded by a stay at Mount Sinai for psychiatric treatment. Ms. Leutner left the hospital prematurely, the petition states, against Dr. Sporn’s judgment, assisted by a friend.

Ever since his mother’s death, the baby has been in the custody of child protective services. He is currently in foster care in New York City, even though Dr. Sporn desperately wants him returned home and Ms. Leutner’s sister, Susan Sylvester, who lives in Illinois, is also seeking custody.

How could such a strange state of affairs have come to pass? In a proceeding on Tuesday, Justice Laura E. Drager acknowledged that mandated visits to both homes determined that either would be suitable for Lincoln. She also said it was in the best interest of the child, and the city, to settle the matter quickly. And yet, Lincoln technically occupies the Dickensian status of “destitute,” a term new to New York State family statute pertaining to children who have no known parents. The next hearing on the child’s fate is scheduled for March.

Dr. Sporn’s petition offers a moving portrait of his investment in fatherhood, outlining the joy he took in his son’s birth, the willingness with which he changed diapers and bathed the baby. He found himself falling “deeper and deeper in love” with the child. “I looked forward to his cries in the night just to have another opportunity to hold this child in my arms and soothe him back to sleep,” he says in court documents.

But from the perspective of the law, a parent in Dr. Sporn’s situation is effectively not a parent at all. He was not married to Lincoln’s mother. He has no blood relationship to the child. And he did not take steps to legally adopt him after his birth.

The law doesn’t reflexively recognize the role you have played, or the obvious parental intent that attaches to anyone who has gone to the trouble to have a child with assisted reproductive technology, or the number of times you’ve performed 3 a.m. feedings. Dr. Sporn’s case resembles the kind gay parents frequently find themselves in when they split up: a mother or a father who is not biologically related to the child typically has a difficult time gaining recognition as a parent in court if formal adoption proceedings haven’t already been started.

Legal precedent itself is confusing. A few years ago, Susan Sommer, the director of constitutional litigation at Lambda Legal, won a case for a client who sought to be regarded as a legal parent to a child, not genetically her own, whom she had with a female partner. The couple previously had a civil union in Vermont, and the court in New York agreed to comply with Vermont law regarding parental rights. But the decision did not overtly overturn a New York precedent, more than 20 years old, that determined a lesbian mother unrelated to her child was a legal stranger. Yet genetics aren’t always paramount either. In a 2006 New York City case, a man was helping to raise a child he thought was his. After it was revealed that another man was the biological father, he was still held responsible for child support.

“There was a time when being ‘illegitimate’ afflicted a whole array of legal disabilities on a child,” Ms. Sommer said. “The law had to, as a constitutional matter, adjust.” And it started to: a series of United States Supreme Court cases in the 1960s and ’70s sought to protect children from disadvantage if their parents were unmarried.

But there is still much ground to be covered. We’re watching “Modern Family,” but certain dimensions of the legal system have yet to change the channel from the era of black and white.


If You’re A Married Couple Thinking Of A Known Donor…

While parenting partnerships come in different forms, one of the most important distinctions – from a legal perspective – is the difference between a “known donor” (typically referring to a known sperm donor, though sometimes used for a known egg donor) and a “co-parenting” relationship.  In the former, there is generally an expectation that the known donor – even if he plans to be an active part of the child’s life – will not have the legal responsibilities of a parent.

However, many state statutes on “known donors” have not kept up with the times.  The known donor statutes of many states only address the idea of a married couple using a known donor. (See our state-by-state laws for more information.) In most of these states, the statute declares that a known sperm donor to a married couple will NOT be considered a legal parent, and that the husband of the impregnated woman will be seen as the child’s legal father. These laws were enacted to make sure that known donors to married couples didn’t try to assert legal rights to the child.

So its not surprising that, in this Indiana Court of Appeals Case this month, the court found that the ex-husband of a woman impregnated with the donor sperm of a friend was still legally responsible for the children of the marriage.

Where this will become interesting is when same-sex couples, who use a known donor, work their way through the court system in states where these types of known sperm donor laws exist.  While many of the states recognizing same-sex marriage have sperm donor laws that recognize a broader range of relationship possibilities, the question is – will states apply the same sperm donor rules for married same-sex couples that they do for opposite-sex couples, i.e., will a known donor be cut off from making an argument for legal parentage?

Most observers believe that this will indeed be the case. However, the “marital presumption” that the child of a marriage is the legal child of the two partners of the marriage is likely to be challenged at some point by a known donor seeking legal rights.  This will be an interesting case to watch indeed…


VA Supreme Court “Does The Right Thing” For Sperm Donor Dad

What happens when the laws of a state don’t keep up with these “Modern Family” times? In the case of Virginia, the courts have decided to step in to – in the words of many wannabe dads – “do the right thing” to make sure that the intent of co-parents to BE parents is recognized.

According to VA’s sperm donor statute, any man who donates his sperm (i.e., insemination through a fertility doctor / clinic) is NOT a biological father.  This statute was originally constructed to make sure that married couples using donor sperm would not have to worry about a claim of “parentage” by the sperm donor.

However, in an interesting case this month, an unmarried boyfriend/girlfriend couple decided to have a child through IVF – so the boyfriend’s sperm was used by a fertility clinic to impregnate his girlfriend.  The two signed a written agreement stating that he would be considered the child’s legal father.  (Basically the opposite situation of the Kansas sperm donor case we discussed in a previous post.)

Several months after the baby was born, the couple broke up, and the girlfriend filed suit, claiming that under VA law he was NOT a legal father since he “donated sperm” under the terms of the VA statute.

While this may have been true under the VA sperm donor statute, the VA Supreme Court didn’t buy it. They found in favor of the boyfriend’s claim to be a legal father – most particularly because of the clear indication, through the written agreement, that both parties intended that he WOULD be the father.

If nothing else, this case points out how quickly the laws around co-parenting are changing – not only by statute, but by court cases as well.

So, even if the statutes of a state are clear, one should ALWAYS HAVE A WRITTEN AGREEMENT with their parenting partner which spells out exactly what your intent is.  The Kansas case suggests that this doesn’t always help if it doesnt comply with state statute, but now the Virginia case suggests that it won’t hurt, either!

You can read more about the VA Case here.


A Wake-Up Call for Known Sperm Donors

So you think you’re just a known sperm donor and not a legal parent?  You may need to think again.

The state of Kansas has filed a claim against a known sperm donor who had actually signed an agreement with the intended parents that stated he would not be financially responsible for the resulting child.  However, in this case, the intended parents were a same-sex couple – and since Kansas doesn’t recognize same-sex relationships, only one of the two women is the legal mother of the children.

Unfortunately, the lesbian couple hit upon some hard times, and had to apply to the state for financial assistance for their family.  And so, in the eyes of the state of Kansas, who do you think they want to go after for child support?  That’s right – the biological father who thought the matter had been settled with the known sperm donor agreement he had signed with the lesbian couple.  To Kansas, he’s not only the biological father, but the legal father as well.

But this whole situation could easily have been avoided. Had the known sperm donor – and the lesbian couple – taken the time to review the state laws regarding known sperm donors, they would have discovered that home insemination in Kansas does not cut off the legal rights and responsibilities of a “donor dad”, but going through a fertility clinic and using a doctor to conduct the insemination would have. Had they followed the letter of the law and had medically-assisted insemination, he would not be considered a legal parent and the state would have had no grounds to go after the sperm donor for financial support.

The moral of this story is not that one should avoid the wonderful and fulfilling opportunity to become a known sperm donor – but rather, know the laws of your state before getting pregnant so you can make sure the legal outcome in terms of legal parentage is the result you want – and expect. We encourage you to review our legal page with state-by-state information on Family By Design as a starting point.


You can read a more detailed story about the Kansas case in the Huffington Post – the text of the article is below:

Kansas Sperm Donor For Lesbian Couple Faces Child

Support Suit From State

The Huffington Post  |  By Posted: 12/30/2012 1:16 pm EST  |  Updated: 12/30/2012 1:29 pm EST

Kansas Sperm Donor

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback’s administration is seeking child support from a sperm donor to a lesbian couple.

Kansas state officials are seeking child support from the sperm donor to a lesbian couple in exchange for the state providing the child’s mother with financial aid.

The Kansas Department of Children and Families has filed a claim against William Marotta, a mechanic in Topeka, demanding child support for the 3-year-old daughter of Topeka residents Jennifer Schreiner and Angela Bauer, to whom he donated sperm in 2009, the Topeka Capital-Journal reported. Schreiner and Bauer had sought financial assistance from state welfare officials after Bauer stopped working due to illness and could not financially support Schreiner and their children.

According to the Capital-Journal, Schreiner and Bauer are no longer together but still co-parent their eight children. Because Schreiner is the 3-year-old’s sole parent under Kansas law, which does not recognize same-sex unions, the state cannot seek child support from Bauer.

“More and more gays and lesbians are adopting and reproducing, and this to me is a step backward,” Bauer told the Capital-Journal. “I think a lot of progressive movement is happening currently in the world as far as gays and lesbians go. Maybe this is Kansas’ stand against some of that.”

Bauer and Schreiner had signed an agreement with Marotta releasing him from all responsibility for the child. The state argues in court documents that because a doctor did not handle the artificial insemination as required by state law, the contract among the three is not valid.

Marotta is seeking to have the case dismissed. A state judge will hear arguments next month, The Kansas City Star reported. Marotta’s lawyer, Hannah Schroller, told the Star that her client believed he was a sperm donor and not a parent. Schroller also argued in court papers that the state’s interpretation of the artificial-insemination-by-doctor requirement fails to protect sperm donors because it would allow Kansas women to have sperm shipped to their home from a sperm bank and inseminate themselves with the intent of then demanding financial support from the donor.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Children and Families told the Star that she could not comment on the case.

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R), who oversees the agency, has long opposed gay marriage, declaring during his 2008 presidential campaign that it would lead to more children being “born out of welock” and declining to answer questions about his position on gay adoption. In 2011, Brownback was criticized by the Kansas Equality Coalition for attending a Texas prayer rally staged by a group that has opposed gay rights.

In 2004, Kansas lawmakers passed a ban on same-sex marriage. Efforts to have the ban written into the state constitution have failed so far, but could be revived in next year’s legislative session.

At least one Democrat, Topeka Councilman Chad Manspeaker, has indicated his opposition to the state’s seeking child support from Marotta. On Saturday night, Manspeaker posted on Instagram a photo of an anti-gay sign in front of Westboro Baptist Church, the Topeka-based group known for its virulently anti-gay rhetoric, and wrote, “Right now Kansas’ Department of Children and Families looks a lot like this.” Brownback has opposed Westboro’s notorious picketing of funerals.

Brownback opponents, including state Senate President Steve Morris (R-Hugoton), a moderate Republican, have accused the governor and other conservatives of wanting to turn Kansas into an “ultraconservative utopia.”

“This is exactly our problem. People move away from our state because of things like this,” Manspeaker told HuffPost. “Our state becomes more of what Brownback wants it to be. It is the kind of thing that young people, like myself, my wife and our friends, that boggles our minds. It is a real shame.”


How the Internet Is Changing Adoption Opportunities

By creating opportunities to connect like-minded people directly with one another, the internet has become a powerful tool in enabling the creation of modern families. In parallel with how parenting partnerships are opening up new opportunities for parenting, so has the internet also created new opportunities for connecting adoptive parents with mothers seeking to give up their child for adoption. However, be warned: not every online adoption “agency” is as legitimate as they may make themselves out to be.

NPR has recently conducted a fascinating series on families who are looking to find adoption opportunities over the internet. The text of the article is below:


Finding A Child Online: How The Web Is Transforming Adoption

When Eric James and his partner, Zerxes Spencer, decided to adopt last year, they signed on with Adoptions Together, a reputable agency close to their home in Maryland. They attended the agency’s seminars to learn about the process, met other “waiting parents” and formed personal bonds with the staff. But there was just one problem.

“When we entered the pool, we were looking at generally a two- to three-year wait,” says James. “And about six months in they reached out to let us know the wait actually would be probably much longer than that.”

Why? He was told that many pregnant women are bypassing agencies and seeking prospective parents across the country through the Internet.

In fact, a new study that’s among the first of its kind finds that the Internet is transforming adoption by opening up the way would-be parents and birth mothers find each other. Some welcome the shift, although the report also suggests it raises ethical concerns.

James’ predicament shows how even people who don’t intend to can find themselves using the Internet for adoption. To speed up their search, his agency advised him and Spencer to get online.

The two men recently created their own website, featuring photos with friends and family, a “Letter to the Birth Parent,” and even bios of their two French poodle mixes. There’s an email address, a Facebook page and even a toll-free phone number.

“Essentially, we’re just putting together this marketing campaign to sell ourselves to a birth parent,” James says. It’s an idea that made him uncomfortable at first, but something he’s come to accept as a new reality.

“Pregnant mothers have the ability through searching functions on various websites to customize the search,” says Shawn Kane, executive director of American Adoptions, a fully licensed agency that also uses the Internet to reach out to pregnant women across the country.

“For some women it’s very important to have a family that is not around them,” Kane says. “She doesn’t want to have that chance of running into the child or the family later down the road. So it allows her to customize her search by location, by religion, by race, whatever she’s looking for.”

What about all the counseling agencies provide? Many consider it crucial to help a pregnant woman in crisis decide whether or not to give up her child. Yes, Kane says, some need that face-to-face meeting.

“But there’s just as many people wanting to get to know their options over the phone,” he says, “because maybe they work odd jobs, they don’t have the ability to come into an office or transportation is hard.”

While that may be fine for some, a new report by the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute finds a risk with the rise of Internet-based adoption providers.

Study: Internet’s Transformative Impact

The report by the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute is among the first to examine the wide-ranging impact of the Internet on adoption. Among its findings:

  • A growing “commodification” of adoption, with some internet providers aggressively marketing themselves to pregnant women.
  • An end of the era of “closed adoption,” as more adoptees find their birth parents through social media.
  • A broader market of prospective parents that can expedite placement, notably for foster and special needs children.

“Anybody can hang up a shingle on the Internet, you just need to know how to build a website,” says Adam Pertman, the group’s executive director.

He says a number of online adoption facilitators have no legal license and no state oversight. Yet — like a Wal-Mart crowding out mom-and-pops — many have huge advertising budgets that place them at the top of an online search. And their ads make promises no traditional adoption agency can.

” ‘Adopt your healthy baby in six to nine months, on average,’ ” says Pertman, citing a common claim. “Wow. I gotta ask, what are they doing that they can promise babies in six to nine months?”

Kane says it’s simply the power of a national presence. But Pertman’s report suggests some Internet providers are reaching out aggressively to pregnant women, pushing the idea of adoption over other options, such as parenting. Traditional agencies echo the complaint.

“You’ll often notice when you do a search [online], the first thing that jumps up is, ‘We can pay for your college.’ ‘We can get you an apartment with a swimming pool,’ ” says Janice Goldwater, executive director of Adoptions Together, the brick-and-mortar agency in Maryland that’s lost business to Internet providers. “That’s a red flag, in my opinion, when somebody is being induced by things.”

Some states allow such payments. But not Maryland, which puts Goldwater’s clients at a competitive disadvantage. And, she says, while some online providers are perfectly ethical, her agency has encountered others that are not.

“We do have a number of adoptive parents who have told us of horror stories where they’ve spent thousands of dollars connecting with people on the Internet that have not yielded a successful adoption,” she says.

Goldwater’s advice: If you do use an online adoption provider, make sure it’s licensed so any match it makes will be legally sound.

Meantime, her client, James, is expanding his online search. Next up is a video on his website and ads on Google, aimed at catching the eye of just the right woman.


Can You Afford To Become A Parent? Got 500k?

You may want to sit down for this: a newly-released study from the U.S. government finds that the average cost of raising a child from birth to age 17 in the United States is now $235,000. And that’s without including college expenses. And for higher earners living in a high-cost city like NYC, LA, SF and the like, your average for this same time period is almost half a million dollars.  (And that 500k is still before Stanford, Duke, or even the local community college.)

Where does all that money go, you ask?  This is for necessary stuff – housing, education, food, clothing, child care, health care and the like – so before you go including that trip to Disney World in these calculations, discretionary spending isn’t included in these figures.

Of course, while the headline number may give you sticker shock, you won’t need to write that check for ages 0-17 all on the first day.  And lower-income families have a lower average cost, closer to $200k.  Nevertheless, the new U.S. figures are a good reminder that prospective parenting partners should spend a lot of time before conception thinking through how they’re going to manage the financial issues related to co-parenting. Check out FamilyByDesign’s section on financial issues for parenting partners for more ideas on how to manage the financial issues of the co-parenting process.


A good CNBC article on the new government figures is included below:

With a husband working strictly on sales commission in a down economy, money has been tight for several years now for Laura Sowa. The Nashville woman works hard to keep things as normal as possible for her two daughters, but these days “normal” is being redefined. This hit home for Sowa recently as she listened to the girls playing “shopping trip” in the next room.

“It’s so funny,” Sowa says. “Samantha will tell Emily, ‘No, you can’t buy that today. It’s not on sale.’ Then Samantha will make coupons for Emily to use and say, ‘Now you can buy it.’ They both know you never pay full price for anything.”

Child’s play mimicking real life—mom is an inveterate coupon-cutter, bargain hunter and all-around economizer. Times are tough for millions of families like the Sowas, and the cost of raising kids just keeps going up.

According to the latest statistics released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, parents will spend an average of $235,000 to raise a child born in 2011 to the age of 17. (And that’s not taking into account any savings for college).

Housing, food, clothing, health care, child care, schooling … the list of compulsory expenses goes on and on. Discretionary spending such as family vacations, birthday gifts, music lessons and the like are mostly extra.

Couple this whopping $235,000 with the recent, sudden downturn in the American economy, and families are facing challenges unseen in generations.

“It does give some people pause,” says Dr. Joyce Cavanagh, a family economics specialist and associate professor with the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension in College Station. “Every year when this study comes out, there are people who think, ‘Whoa, that’s a lot of money. What are we getting ourselves into?'”

The numbers in the USDA’s report are eye-opening.

The $235,000 figure is an average. For the lowest income groups, raising a child will cost about $212,000. For the highest earners, the number shoots up to $490,000.

The greatest share of these expenses is housing, which is 30 percent of the total. It’s followed closely by child care and education at 18 percent and food at 16 percent.

“Because of the economic insecurity of life today, there are some tough trade-offs that families are having to make,” says Ellen Galinsky, president of the Families and Work Institute in New York City. “These aren’t luxury trade-offs, like not getting the fanciest strollers. These are food and ‘who’s going to stay with my child’ issues for so many families.”

Indeed, who is going to stay with the kids is one of the biggest financial hurdles parents face. In 1961, when the USDA’s Expenditures on Children by Families report was first issued, child care and education costs amounted to only 2 percent of the overall cost. Today, that number stands at 18 percent.

Rebecca Sutton of Belvidere, N.J., has two sons—Landon, 4, and Brody, 4 months—with her partner, Jared Coffin. When the couple found out they were having a second child, they started doing the math and the result shocked them.

“Our day care expense for just our older son was over $1,000 a month,” Sutton says. “If we had put our younger son in day care as well, it would have been about $2,200 a month. That was more than our mortgage payment.”

The couple knew they couldn’t afford it and made a tough choice. Sutton returned to her job as an online marketing manager while Coffin, an electrician by trade, quit his full-time job in order to stay home with the kids. He picks up side work here and there, but being a dad is his primary focus.

“He’s really getting into his groove now,” says Sutton. “He’s enjoying spending time with both kids.”

For much of the past decade, Josh Bevington was living the high life. A successful real estate agent in one of the hottest markets in the nation, he whipped around town from open houses to closing transactions. He had a thick portfolio of clients and was helping buy and sell dream homes in southwest Florida.

But in 2008, the American economy began to struggle; the bottom dropped out of the housing market and few places were harder hit than the Gulf Coast of Florida.

“We would joke around the office that we were working twice as hard for half as much,” Bevington recalls. “The membership at the local board of realtors decreased by half as a lot of agents got out of the business.”

As the market constricted, so did Bevington’s family finances. With three young children at home, Josh’s wife, Caroline, tried to return to full-time work as a pediatric physical therapist. But money woes had hit local hospitals and the hours weren’t there.

So Josh and Caroline sat down with their household budget and began making tough decisions. Gym memberships? Canceled. A treadmill? Sold online for extra cash. Running outside was free. Old cars were kept longer than planned. Friends and family helped out with baby-sitting.

Financial experts say the Bevingtons took the right steps when money issues appeared.

“That’s one of the bright spots of these hard economic times,” Cavanagh says. “We have seen more families developing a budget or a spending plan. That’s a first step—to become more aware of how they are spending money.”

From there, it’s a simple next step to identify the areas where money is being wasted or the areas where one can cut back without too much sacrifice.

Finally, if circumstances require it, families can move on to making more serious cuts, reducing food and clothing budgets, moving to a less expensive home, even selling a car and taking public transportation. Painful, but often necessary.

“After we found out we were having a second son, we knew we couldn’t stay where we were living,” Sutton recalls. “The cost of living was way too high. Our house was too small and we wouldn’t have been able to upgrade, the housing market was too expensive.”

So Sutton and her family packed up their home in Maple Shade, N.J., and moved two hours away—closer to family and to a home owned by Sutton’s parents.

Every family needs to find their own balance—the amount of belt-tightening they can live with while still giving the kids everything they need.

“I operate on a zero weekly budget,” Laura Sowa says. “The only money I spend during the week is for gas or groceries.”

And she means it.

Sowa never dashes into a restaurant to grab a quick lunch or dinner. Rather, she keeps a picnic blanket in her car along with packed lunches so she and the girls can stop at a park or the library to eat. She pores over local magazines looking for free things to do with the kids at area attractions, museums and bookstores.

When it comes to shopping, Sowa is a coupon queen. Each week, she goes through the supermarket flyers to see what’s on sale. Then she plans the family’s meals based on what bargains she can get. She estimates she cuts at least 30 percent off her grocery bill each week, sometimes more.

“When I get it up to 40 or 45 percent, I’m pretty proud. I make a call to my husband and tell him how much we saved,” Sowa says with a laugh.

“We have seen an incredible rise in the number of people using coupons,” says Cavanagh. “A dollar here and 50 cents there really does add up over the course of a year.”

There are other keys to Sowa’s frugalness.

Special activities such as camps or lessons for the girls often go on Christmas and birthday lists and are given as gifts by grandparents. Sowa never buys any clothing new. All of the girls’ clothes are either hand-me-downs from older cousins or items purchased at consignment shops. Sowa keeps tubs in the attic of their home, labeled by size and season. Shirts, pants, dresses, jackets—they all sit there waiting to be called into action. When they are being worn, Sowa takes fastidious care of them until the girls outgrow them.

“I do a lot of soaking,” she says. “I soak them in detergent to get any stains out and then they go back to consignment. I press them and hang them and price them and off they go.”

The money made selling items on consignment goes toward new things the family needs. It’s a never-ending loop.

While times have been tight for many families with children like the Bevingtons and Sowas, valuable lessons have been learned. Lessons about budgeting. Lessons about making do with less. Lessons about what one really needs in life to be happy.

For Josh Bevington, the downturn in his real estate business brought some hardship, but also something of immeasurable value.

“It was a blessing in disguise. I had been working way too much, working 80 hours a week,” Bevington says. “I was able to step back and realize that my priorities were out of whack. I started going to church. I started spending time with the kids. I’m coaching. I’m taking an active part in their lives.”

Despite what the statistics say, it turns out that the high cost of raising kids isn’t always as expensive as many believe.

“What we think our children need and what children actually need can be quite different sometimes,” says Galinsky. “Don’t think it’s always something you have to purchase for your child or something you have to schedule for them. The time spent with you—taking a walk, looking at leaves falling—will be something they will remember forever.”

Cutting the cost

Sometimes circumstances dictate that we cut back to the bare minimum. Here are nine things to consider when you have to stretch your budget.

1.Don’t buy a top-of-the-line stroller.

2.Cut your child’s hair.

3.Find free entertainment at parks, libraries, restaurants.

4.Keep birthday parties simple — at home, games, cake, presents, done.

5.Handle pre-school at home.

6.Shift hours instead of opting for expensive childcare.

7.Look (but don’t buy) in stores, then purchase online.

8.Shop bargain racks, consignment stores and garage sales.

9.Pack lunches, buy in bulk, and consider making food from scratch.


When Aspiring Parents – And Children – Lose to Politics

Its a sad state of affairs when the futures of tens of thousands of children needing good homes are sacrificed to petty political gamesmanship.  And no, I’m not talking about the “fiscal cliff” in the United States.  In this instance, Russia has decided to put the kabosh on allowing American parents the opportunity to adopt Russian orphan children in need of good homes.

According to this New York Times article, there are 650,000 children in Russia living without parental supervision.  Many of these children need a loving adoptive home.  So why is Russia withholding the ability for these children to be adopted to loving would-be parents in the USA?  Because it’s “payback” for US sanctions against Russian human rights abuses.

The lives of children are too important to be subject to the vendettas of politicians.  Hopefully this is a short-lived “penalty”, since the only ones truly getting penalized are orphaned children who desperately need a good home.


Required Health Testing For Known Sperm Donors – No More?

As we discuss in our article on the legal requirements in the United States on sperm donation by “known” sperm donors, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires expensive testing to be conducted on the sperm of persons who are donating their sperm (costs can run close to $1000, and fines can be charged if this requirement is not followed). However a recent case filed in a California court challenges that requirement, stating that as long as these known donors aren’t charging, this is violates the rights of the parenting partners (both donor and recipient) to “privacy, bodily integrity and autonomy, liberty, life, due process and equal protection” as guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.

You can read more about the sperm donor case here.

What do you think? Should the government be able to regulate sperm donation that occurs directly between two parenting partners where payment is not involved?