California Court Set to Rule on Fate of Frozen Embryos After Divorce

Most divorce cases require the parties to address and resolve many challenging issues, such as the division of marital property, spousal support, and other financial matters. But it is important to realize that each case (and each family) is different. Some spouses disagree over child custody and visitation, while others may see eye to eye on matters of physical and legal custody. Because of the unique nature of each divorce, parties contemplating the end of their marriage are encouraged to consult with a highly experienced San Diego family law attorney who will know the best way to approach each individual case.

A recent California divorce garnering national attention involves the fate of the couple’s frozen embryos. According to a news article, Dr. Mimi Lee and her husband Stephen Findley were married five years ago. Just prior to the wedding, Lee found out that she had breast cancer, and the couple decided to create and freeze five embryos. Findley filed for divorce two years ago and sought to have the embryos destroyed, in accordance with the consent agreement the parties signed prior to engaging in the reproductive technology.

Lee opposed the destruction of the embryos, arguing that she is infertile now and it may be her only opportunity to have a child who shares her genes. The dispute went to trial in San Francisco this past July. At issue in the case is the enforceability of such consent agreements. This is the final issue to be decided in the couple’s divorce. Lee contended that she did not consider the consent agreement to be a “binding contract” with her then-husband. Legal experts have described the consent agreement as “clear and carefully drafted.” If the court rules in favor of Lee, Findley would essentially be forced to become a parent against his will.

According to another news article, the courts that have addressed this issue typically have not allowed someone to use an embryo over the objections of a former partner. There have been exceptions, however, where the woman involved in the dispute had cancer and is now unable to have a biological child without the embryo. Another issue confounding the situation is the matter of child support down the road. While Lee has stated that she would waive any future support from Findley and raise the child by herself, the legal system in California does not operate that way. By law, a child is entitled to support from his or her biological parents.

The court is expected to hand down its ruling by November of this year. Some have speculated that the decision in this case is likely to establish new law in California regarding embryo disputes. This is clearly a controversial and emerging area of the law, with significant implications concerning child custody and support obligations.

As this case illustrates, laws applicable to divorce proceedings are continuously evolving, by virtue of newly promulgated statutes or case law. It is important to be aware of the current legal requirements affecting your case. Reaching out to an experienced family law attorney and explaining what you hope to achieve in a divorce is an efficient and reassuring way to begin your case. For more than 20 years, Roy M. Doppelt has been representing clients in divorce matters in Linda Vista, Encinitas, Scripps Ranch, San Diego, and throughout Southern California. For a free consultation with a dedicated and experienced family lawyer, contact Doppelt and Forney, APLC through the law firm’s website or give us a call toll-free at (800) ROY IS IT (769-4748).

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