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Father or sperm donor? Jason Patric's custody plea prompts California hearing.

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Patric is currently appealing a judge’s decision that gave full custody of Gus, his son with Danielle Schreiber, to the boy’s mother, in large part because the pair had no written agreement as to the parental arrangement. Patric assumed he would stay involved with the boy; Ms. Schreiber said that was never part of the deal.

Either way, Patric was involved in the boy’s life until Schreiber decided to fight for sole custody. Turned aside by the courts, the actor appealed to the California legislature to address what he sees as a parental injustice and institutional prejudice against men.

“The fact is, I had a little modicum of fame to bring light to a problem that’s going to affect in such a horrific manner children and families,” he said. “I didn’t donate my sperm; I gave my sperm to have a child.… I want my son back,” he said during an interview with ABC's Katie Couric in June.

In emotional but measured testimony Tuesday, Patric said he went to "great lengths," including surgery, to become a father. He said both he and Schreiber signed an "intended parent" document, but that current California law prevented him from making his case before a judge. Other men have complained about the same thing, he said.

The emergence of sperm banks and the high success rate for in vitro fertilization have created markets where would-be moms can shop for the right attributes in a sperm donor without having to deal with the actual man. They have opened new options for older unmarried women, as well as for same-sex couples who want to raise children who are biologically connected to one of them.

But the effects of those advances concern some researchers, including Mr. Day.

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