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Frozen embryos present unique family law issue

When a Florida couple with no children decides to part ways, the matter is often far simpler than for those families who share children. This is not always the case, however, as exemplified by an unusual family law issue currently underway in a West Coast courtroom. The matter concerns a divorced couple who are fighting over the use of frozen embryos.

The couple made the decision to create and freeze five embryos after the wife discovered that she had cancer and could become infertile. After several years of marriage, the husband filed for divorce. At that time, he asked that the embryos be destroyed. By that time, however, the wife was unable to conceive, and the embryos were the only means through which she could have a child that shares her genetic makeup.

The matter is now before a court, with both sides making strong arguments as to the fate of these five embryos. The woman has stated that she would waive any right to child support if she is able to use the embryos and a surrogate to have a child. It is impossible, however, to sign away the responsibilities of another person in regard to his or her child, which makes her offer invalid.

The couple signed an agreement at the time the embryos were created, in which both agreed that the embryos would be destroyed in the event of a divorce. The woman is claiming that those documents were signed in a period of intense stress, as a cancer diagnosis was received and a new marriage was beginning. The man claims that both parties were fully aware of how the embryos would be handled if the marriage did not last. The manner in which this complex family law issue will be resolved could set legal precedent in the state, and will be added to the body of legal decisions that could affect individuals in other states, including Florida.

Source: Los Angeles Times, "Divorced couple fighting in court over frozen embryos", Maura Dolan, July 13, 2015

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