November 29, 2013 at 9:25am

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If you’ve been watching morning television, daytime talk shows, or evening news magazine shows lately, you may have seen Jason Patric in several guest appearances talking about how he has been separated from “his son” by the actions of the child’s mother, his former girlfriend.

His story is an attempt to appeal to the natural instinct of most people to support someone who is a victim. Who wouldn’t want to support a person who claims that their child has been suddenly, inexplicably taken from them? The problem with Patric’s story is that, with the exception of being the biological father of a child born to his former girlfriend, it is untrue. Not only is it untrue, the truth is the exact opposite of what he claims.

Patric finds himself in the position of not being a legal parent to his former girlfriend’s child not because of an accident of circumstance or arbitrary application of a poorly drafted law. Rather, Patric is not the legal parent of his former girlfriend’s child because those were exactly the conditions he imposed when he donated his sperm to her four years ago so that she could become a mother on her own.

That these were Patric’s conditions was reflected in a handwritten, 20-page letter that he wrote to her at the time in which he said he was not ready to be a father but that she had “his blessing” if she wanted to use his sperm. The letter made clear that Patric was not to have any responsibilities for the child – financial, legal, or otherwise – and imposed yet another condition: The fact of his donation had to be maintained in the strictest confidence by his former girlfriend. Consistent with these conditions, he demanded that he not be listed on the birth certificate and that the child not have his surname.

These were conditions with which his former girlfriend, Danielle Schreiber, readily agreed. She was ready to become a mother and did not want to depend on a romantic relationship to do so. She also wanted the autonomy – both legal and practical – of being a single parent and was prepared to meet its challenges.

Danielle had already taken steps to pursue motherhood on her own, including purchasing a home with a work studio so she could remain close to home once she had the child. She had also researched and purchased anonymous donor sperm and preserved it at a California fertility center. On the eve of her planned procedure to conceive with the anonymous donor sperm, Patric offered her his sperm. After carefully considering the pros and cons of using anonymous versus known donor sperm, she chose to use the known donor sperm.

Danielle conceived in early 2009 through in vitro fertility procedures that she arranged and paid for. Patric did not attend or pay for any of these procedures. She experienced pregnancy and all of its rites – prenatal visits, birthing and newborn classes, buying baby clothes and preparing for the baby’s arrival – all on her own, supported by family and some close friends. She assembled all of the baby’s furniture and set up the baby’s nursery – in her home where she lived alone – by herself. She set up a baby registry and selected registry items all on her own. Patric did not participate in, pay for, or help pay for any of these items or activities.

When the baby came, Danielle delivered on her own at Cedars Sinai in LA after a nearly two-day labor and delivery with complications, aided by a mid-wife and doula. Patric, who was several years into a long-term romantic relationship with another person at the time, was in New York on the baby’s due date with his then girlfriend, with whom he had just spent the Thanksgiving holiday. This former girlfriend subsequently provided a sworn statement that at no time during their nearly three year relationship – which spanned Danielle’s entire pregnancy and the first year of her child’s life – did Patric ever tell her that he was about to become or was a biological father.

Danielle announced her baby’s birth to a list of family and friends. Patric was not mentioned in the announcement or even copied on the email. Patric – obviously – did not announce the birth. Nor did he tell anyone. Danielle’s sister drove her and her baby home from the hospital. Danielle hired a baby nurse to assist her for the first several weeks with midnight feedings and diaper changes. Patric did not contribute to or pay for any of these costs: Not the costs of Danielle’s prenatal, labor, or delivery medical care, not the costs associated with any of the preparations for the baby’s arrival, and not the costs related to the baby nurse.

Throughout Danielle’s pregnancy, including on the eve of her due date, Patric reiterated to her the conditions of his handwritten letter, including in an email shortly before her delivery instructing her to “reread my [20-page] letter.” He continued to remind Schreiber of these conditions after the baby was born and well into the third year of his life.

For the first year and a half of Danielle’s son’s life, Patric had sporadic contact with Danielle and her son when Patric would occasionally stop by Danielle’s house. These visits were infrequent because the first year of the baby’s life, Patric was out of town at least 50% of the time. On none of the occasions when he did visit did Patric ever change a diaper, prepare food, bathe the baby, or give the baby a bottle. More significant, on none of those occasions did he ever refer to himself as the baby’s father or to the baby as his son, or tell anyone that he was the baby’s biological father. To the contrary, on one occasion when another visitor mistakenly asked Patric if he was the baby’s father, Patric denied it, saying he was “just a friend.” Patric also continued to insist that Schreiber maintain his status as the sperm donor in strict confidence, even to her own family.

Because Patric never lived with Danielle or her son, he also never participated in another basic rite of early parenthood: waking up in the middle of the night to provide a feeding or change a diaper.

In 2011, when Danielle son was nearly a year and a half old, she and Patric rekindled their relationship. During this time, Patric still spent extensive periods of time outside LA (in fact, 70% of that year), but had more contact with Danielle’s son as an incident of spending time with Danielle. Even then, however, Patric did not function in the role of a parent. He did not prepare meals, change a diaper, bathe or put the child down for a nap or bed. He did not arrange, pay for, or participate any of the child’s activities or day care, or take him to any pediatrician check-ups. He did not exercise decision-making responsibilities with respect to the child and did not pay child support. On the occasions when he was present, he acted mostly as a spectator, while Danielle or a designated caretaker took care of her son. Indeed, Patric never spent any time with Danielle’s son outside of the context of his relationship with her and, with the eventual exception of a half hour here or there so that Danielle could run a quick errand, was never left alone with the child not in the presence of Danielle or her designated caretaker.

At no time before or after Patric started dating Danielle again did he ever live with her or her son or ever seek to. Nor did he ever ask to have Danielle or her son live with him or even stay at his house. In fact, Patric never childproofed his home, had a crib there, or kept any toys or other items in his home that would evidence being the parent of a small child or that would make it comfortable for a child. Moreover, on the handful of occasions when Danielle asked Patric if she and her son could stay there (on one occasion her house was heat treated for an infestation and reached uncomfortably warm temperatures), he declined. He explained that he had another houseguest at the time and how would he explain to her the presence of Danielle and her son?

Indeed, it was not until after Patric sued Danielle last summer seeking legal and physical custody of her son – almost three years old by then — that Patric first purchased a crib for his home and a car seat for his car, in an obvious attempt to window dress after the fact for his litigation. In the same vein, in one of Patric’s recent television appearances he has spoken wistfully of his son’s “room” at his home. This “room” never existed – Danielle’s son never had a place to stay at Patric’s home or was welcomed there – until after he sued Danielle.

The twelve months during 2011 when Danielle and Patric were dating again, Patric was out of town for nearly 70% of the time and was living in New York, where he has a home and was performing in a play. By the latter part of that year, Danielle was increasingly uncomfortable in the relationship. While Patric continued to deny he had a child, including not acknowledging it under circumstances where to do so operates as a denial, he was increasingly controlling and dominating of Danielle and her son in private. He had also begun to threaten Danielle that he was going to “take” her son from her and that she and her family “would never see him again.” While knowing that Patric was not legally her child’s father and had never conducted himself that way, these threats were still impactful for Danielle.

By the spring of 2012, Danielle had decided the relationship was untenable. Patric’s behavior was controlling, verbally abusive, and physically threatening and menacing to her. He was also increasingly heavy handed in his interactions with her son. Patric, who did not live with Danielle, often showed up at her house late at night or early in the morning unannounced and uninvited and banged on doors and windows demanding to be let in. Once inside, he physically boxed Danielle in and restricted her freedom of movement with his body. He cursed at her and yelled vulgarities, including anti-Semitic slurs, often in front of her son.

Throughout this time, Patric continued to threaten Danielle that he would take her son from her and, for the first time, threatened to sue her for custody. While Danielle was skeptical that he would be able to do so – after all, he had donated his sperm, demanded in writing that he have no responsibilities and had never assumed any, was not listed on the birth certificate and had never asked to be, and had not taken any steps to legally assume parentage (including, for example, through a voluntary declaration of paternity or adoption) – Danielle was still frightened and sought to appease him. Against her better judgment, she permitted Patric more access to herself and her son even though she was uncomfortable doing so.

By May of 2012, Danielle finally mustered up the courage to end the relationship. She explained to Patric that while their relationship was ending, she would permit him see her son on a regular basis if he wanted to. She asked that Patric adhere to a schedule and that he not show up at her house unannounced and just walk in.

Shortly thereafter, Patric sued Danielle. In a letter from his lawyer, he threatened to seek full legal and physical custody of her son and to take him from her completely.

Even after being served with Patric’s suit, Danielle continued to permit Patric contact with her son, even capitulating to his demands to increase visitation to levels he had never experienced before suing her.

Over the next several months, Danielle attempted to defend herself against Patric’s onslaught of litigation. He hired – and fired, when too moderate – high powered lawyers and filed numerous emergency motions and ex parte applications, losing all of them. In parallel, he continued his campaign of harassment against Danielle, repeatedly sending her threatening, taunting, and vulgar emails and texts. When he came to her home to pick up or drop off her son, he was physically menacing and hostile towards her, to the point that her son once admonished him “not to yell” at Danielle.

All the while, Danielle continued to permit Patric’s voluntary visitation with her son. This changed, however, when Danielle suspected that Patric was using his contact with her son to attempt to alienate him from her and their home. On several occasions, her son came home from a visit with Patric and said that Patric told him that his home with Danielle, where he had lived since the day he was brought home from the hospital, was not his home but the house where Patric lived was now his home. Another time he came home from a visit and said that Patric had told him that Danielle was not “mama” but was “Danielle.” Another time he returned home and said that Patric had told him to say that “I don’t like mama,” and that “mama scares me.” In addition to Danielle’s concerns about her son witnessing the continued physical hostility from Patric, Danielle now reasonably feared that these visits were causing her son confusion, mistrust, and worse. Concerned for her son’s well-being, she determined that for the time being, she would not continue to expose him to these conditions.

Patric lost his lawsuit earlier this year after a three-day trial in which both he and Danielle testified. Patric presented at trial all of the arguments and fabrications he is now presenting to the media and to the California Legislature. The trial court agreed with Danielle’s version of the facts and ruled against Patric.

Patric’s next step was to lobby the California Legislature, based on the same deceptions and lies, to change the law so that it would retroactively reverse the trial court ruling in Danielle’s favor. The law that he and his high powered lobbyists seek to change has been part of the California Family Code for 26 years and protects women who have used sperm donors, including known donors, from claims of parentage after the fact. It permits a single exception, when the donor and the mother have agreed in writing prior to the child’s conception that the donor will have parental rights.

There was no such agreement in this case. In fact, there is Patric’s contemporaneous letter saying just the opposite. So Patric, not one to be deterred by the truth, has argued that the boilerplate medical consent forms presented separately to him and Danielle by the fertility center that performed her fertility treatment were “an agreement” by him and her that he would have parental rights. He cites the fact that the pre-printed medical consent forms contain the words “intended parent” by the signature line indicating where the patient should provide their signature. The trial court earlier rejected this attempt by Patric to fashion evidence after the fact, finding that the forms had no bearing on the question whether Patric intended to be a parent or agreed with Danielle that he would be.

The facts of this case illustrate precisely why this law, California Family Code 7613(b) is needed and should be preserved in its current form. There may be many reasons why mothers who rely on known donor sperm may want their children to have contact with their biological fathers; indeed, that may even be one reason for selecting known donor sperm over anonymous sperm. But this does not mean that those mothers acquiesce in the granting of legal custody to the donors, which would permit interference in all manner of parenting decisions, including where the child is educated, what doctor he sees and whether he does or doesn’t take antibiotics, what activities he participates in, where the family can live, and even what religion the child is or what last name he has. Without this law, donors who have agreed not to be fathers, who have had minimal contact with the child or contact entirely incidental to their relationship with the mother, and who have borne none of the risks or responsibilities of parenthood, could, years after the fact, change their minds and sue for legal and physical custody. This would be a devastating result for mothers and families and is terrible public policy. (In the case of an unmarried couple that intends to jointly conceive and raise a child together, they can simply agree in writing prior to the procedure that the man will have parental rights.)

As part of his effort to subvert the law in California and the trial court result, Patric has taken his lies to a national audience, appearing on multiple daytime and evening talk shows falsely claiming that he “parented” Danielle’s son with her “since birth” — including the preposterous claim that he was there “every day” of her son’s life — and maliciously accusing Danielle of having “stolen” his son from him. He has written and had others write op-eds and columns in national publications that similarly falsely characterize Danielle and the facts and history of this case. He further laments that he has not seen Danielle’s son in several months but disingenuously fails to mention that Danielle’s father contacted him months earlier after his trial court defeat to suggest they meet to discuss a path forward. Patric failed to reply for three months and when he did, it was in an offensive email in which he called Danielle’s father slurs. Nowhere in his reply did he mention wanting to see Danielle’s son or requesting a discussion of that matter.

Patric’s fabrications are too numerous to attempt to rebut here. But one might ask how he squares the false narrative of his fatherhood with the fact that he did not tell his own mother and brother, as well as most everyone else in his life, that he had a biological son until after he sued Danielle last summer. His narrative is also hard to square with the fact that when Danielle’s son fell gravely ill and was hospitalized for nearly a week in March 2011, and Danielle’s father flew on an emergency basis from NY to LA to assist Danielle while she stayed overnight in the hospital with him, Patric, who was aware of the child’s condition, not only did not come to the hospital to see him, but was photographed at the same time partying in a bar on St. Patrick’s Day with his tongue in a woman’s ear.

The most accurate picture of Mr. Patric is reflected in the candid interview he gave New York Magazine around the same time, in March 2011, where, in a revealing and highly personal conversation about his father and grandfather, the legacy of his father’s work, his past romantic relationships, his mixed breed dog and his penchant for old New York bars, he did not once mention that he was a biological father and, in fact, said that he was not ready to settle down and give up his “artistic freedom” for the sake of marriage and children. Danielle’s son was a year and a half old at the time.

I am Danielle’s sister. Danielle’s son, Gus, is my nephew. He is beloved by our entire family – his family – and has been since the day he was born. I, and the rest of our family, have watched in horror as Patric has repeatedly violated his privacy – that of a three-year old boy – by repeatedly publishing unblurred images of him online and over national print and television media and by publicly broadcasting his and his mother’s full names, to garner media attention for himself. It is only because Danielle’s counsel has contacted each media outlet – each time – to threaten legal action that they have blurred or removed these images.

Danielle and our family have slowly but firmly concluded that Patric does not care about the resolution of this case. He is much more enamored of the fight, which gives him publicity you cannot buy and in which he can style himself a victim and a martyr, which, if you know anything about him, is a perfect fit. As he himself acknowledges, he is not eager to give up this role any time soon.

For Danielle’s part, she would ask Patric, respectfully, to 1) stop lying, 2), recant the lies he has already told, and 3) if he is genuinely interested in mending the bridges burned, to reach out from a place of genuine conciliation and remorse for the damage done.