Mark Langridge, 47, feels he's being punished for an "act of kindness" 13 years later.
The gay sperm donor from Essex, England, has been ordered by the Child Support Agency (CSA) to pay weekly support for the two girls he fathered, despite not being named on their birth certificates or having any contact with the family he helped create almost 13 years ago.
The self-employed man — Langridge works part-time as a bookkeeper and gardener — insists he can't afford the £26 ($42 CAD) a week payments which will add up to £8,000 ($1,280 CAD) by the time the girls reach adulthood.
Langridge has been in a relationship with Shaun Keeble, 37, for 16 years. He tells the DailyMail that he and Keeble met two lesbians in a gay nightclub in 1997. After becoming good friends with the women, Langridge agreed to help the women achieve motherhood — as long as there were no strings attached.
Unfortunately, he didn't get their agreement documented.
"I did not ask for anything to be documented legally and with hindsight perhaps I should have done," he says.
Langridge donated sperm to the couple twice. Baby girls were born in 1998 and 2000. Langridge remained in touch with the women, and saw the girls infrequently at social events. He claims he was surprised to be introduced to the girls as their father.
"Me and Shaun were not interested in having children of our own," he says.
"When the idea [of donating sperm] was suggested, we thought it sounded like a lovely thing to do. But the last few months have been a complete nightmare. I feel as if I am the victim of a state-sponsored blackmail plot…It was purely an act of kindness on my part and now I am being made to pay."
Langridge has had no contact with the family since 2004. It wasn't until the women split that he received the claim for child support from the children's biological mother.
According to the Daily Mail, "The CSA said that if Mr Langridge had used an official sperm donation centre he would not have to pay child support — but informal arrangements are not covered by the law."
"The story will send shivers down the spine of any man who was asked to donate their sperm by a childless woman in the 90s," the Guardian's Miles Brignall writes. "Back then it was impossible for women to use official sperm banks unless they had a male partner — something that is no longer the case."
Langridge wants that law changed — but a judicial review could cost his up to £60,000 ($96,200 CAD), something he can't afford.
"Of course, if I'd foreseen this all those years ago I would not have agreed to it. I just wanted to help a woman in need, and thought what harm could it do?" he tells the Guardian. "I have told the CSA what happened but it has fallen on deaf ears. As far it is concerned, if I'm the biological father I have to pay — irrespective of the circumstances."
"The law was changed because it was unfair, but it is still considered okay for men caught in my position to be penalized," he adds. "Our only crime was agreeing to do someone a good turn. It is absurd that I'm being chased for the money while the children's other mother makes no contribution to their upkeep. How can that be right in modern Britain in which we supposedly have equality?"
Langridge's case is not a unique one. Sperm donation — especially when the donor is known — can be a complicated issue.
In 2004, a Cape Cod man was sued for $100,000 in child support after his estranged wife had frozen embryos implanted without his consent.
In 2007, a lesbian couple in New York tried to sue their sperm donor for child support 18 years after he fathered their son.
And in 2008, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that a woman who promised to not request child support from the father of her child could not change her mind, the Associated Press reports.
"Where a would-be donor cannot trust that he is safe from a future support action, he will be considerably less likely to provide his sperm to a friend or acquaintance who asks, significantly limiting a would-be mother's reproductive prerogatives," Justice Max Baer wrote of his decision to disallow the mother to renege on her promise.
Langridge needs a judge like Baer. Raising kids can be expensive. But shouldn't promises of this magnitude be honoured? Tell us what you think in the comments.