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Fertility Technology Can Complicate Divorce | Complicate Divorce

Dallas-Fort Worth couples who have trouble conceiving sometimes seek the assistance of fertility experts. During in vitro fertilization, eggs and sperm are collected from separate sources and combined to create embryos, which can be implanted or frozen for future use. But, what happens when the couple’s relationship doesn’t last long enough for the embryos to be used?

A pair of West Coast newlyweds decided to freeze embryos after the wife learned treatment for her breast cancer could cause infertility. The spouses signed a consent form stipulating that should the couple divorce, the embryos would be destroyed. The embryos remain frozen as the now-divorced couple battles in court over who has rights to the fertilized eggs.

The clinic consent form may or may not support the ex-husband’s position to dispose of the embryos. His former spouse is arguing due to cancer treatments and age – she’s 46 — the embryos are her only means to have a biological child. An ABC News report said the wife felt she and her former husband were not bound by the terms of the consent form.

Legal observers have noted court decisions in cases like this vary widely. The majority of judgments have been in favor of the parent who does not want embryos used. However, in this case, infertility could give the ex-wife considerable leverage.

The court must consider whether the clinic consent form is legally binding. A judge also must grapple with whether the embryos represent divisible marital property or children, requiring the court to issue possible paternity and custody orders. An ABC News report said the ex-wife would absolve her former husband from any responsibility as a parent.

Frozen embryo litigation may fade as IVF technology advances. Scientists apparently have found a way to freeze unfertilized eggs, paving the way for a convincing legal separation of assets. Unraveling property disputes is one of many services divorce attorneys provide.

Source: National Public Radio, “After A Divorce, What Happens To A Couple’s Frozen Embryos?,” Jennifer Ludden, Aug. 22, 2015

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