A MILLIONAIRE businessman who secretly helped a single friend conceive through IVF has launched a legal fight over custody.
In a case that could have ramifications for hundreds of donor conceptions, the man wants the Family Court to rule on whether he is the boy's parent.
Under Victorian law, a man who donates sperm is not considered the father of any resulting children.
All donors must sign consent forms agreeing they do not have any legal rights or responsibilities towards offspring.
At a hearing, Family Court senior registrar John FitzGibbon noted the case centred on whether the relationship between the pair was "friend", or "friend but with other things agreed".
The woman's lawyer told the court she had always intended to bring up the child as a single mum.
"We don't accept as a matter of law that he is a parent," her barrister Andrew Robinson said. "Just because he donated genetic material doesn't make him a parent."
The man had kept his part secret, the court heard. On the occasions he visited the child, it was usually at the mother's home.
He is seeking regular access visits and, ultimately, joint custody and parental responsibility.
The man's lawyer told court his client had an "arrangement" with the woman before she began IVF.
Barrister Tim North, SC, told the court the man attended the birth, and had covered the costs.
The court heard he'd seen his son as often as three times a week since birth, but contact had ceased about Christmas.
Mr North claimed his client was concerned his developing relationship with the child would be adversely affected the longer he was prevented from seeing him.
The woman's lawyer described her relationship to the man as "like a family friend".
But the lawyer described her relationship with the man's family as "acrimonious", and alleged the man's sister had made threats to kill in text messages.
Mr Robinson told the court other parties - including IVF providers and possibly the State Government - would potentially join the case, given possible ramifications of the apparent conflict between state and Commonwealth law.
Senior Registrar FitzGibbon noted the case had the potential "to grow like Topsy".
He referred to the parties as "mother" and "father" during the initial hearing, though he acknowledged there was dispute over whether those terms were correct.
Read more about sperm donor law within the UK at www.prideangel.com