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Frozen embryos: child custody issue or property?

The circumstances of each couple are unique, and not all couples are able to parent a biological child. Couples nationwide, including in Alaska, have different options, including adoption, surrogacy, in vitro fertilization and more. However, there are no clear legal parameters related to IVF, in which embryos are frozen for future use. This has been a matter of contention in several child custody disputes.

The question is two fold: should the courts regard frozen embryos as property similar to other marital assets and address them during property division, or must the embryos be seen as living beings and considered during child custody negotiations? The courts in different states have different perspectives related to stored embryos and parental rights. Even so, sometimes the case still poses a host of legal, and ethical, issues.

One case in Massachusetts showed that signed contracts providing that the wife will get the frozen embryos did not prevail in court. The judge ruled that it would force a man to father children that he may not want after the divorce. In another case in California, a couple created embryos when the wife was diagnosed with cancer that would leave her infertile. She wanted to keep the embryos in order to have children after her recovery from the disease, but the couple has since divorced.

It has been suggested that the solution may be for couples to freeze eggs and sperm separately, averting the dilemma of who owns the frozen embryos. While there is no clarity yet, Alaska individuals who are going through a divorce that involves frozen embryos may benefit from consulting with an experienced child custody attorney. A lawyer can provide the information relevant to the state laws on this contentious matter and suggest manners in which the issue can be resolved.

Source: medcitynews.com, "Who gets 'custody' when a married couple has frozen embryos but then decides to divorce?", Nicole Oran, Aug. 24, 2015

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