Arizona is breaking new legal ground when it comes to who gets custody of frozen embryos in a divorce. A new law, which took effect July 2018, allows legal custody of the embryos to go to whichever partner wishes to use them to have a child. The other partner has no legal rights, responsibilities or obligations to any future child, including no duty of child support.
The controversial law has changed the landscape for many divorcing couples in Arizona. In California, what are the challenges facing couples with similar issues related to custody of frozen embryos? An experienced local attorney can investigate the intricacies of California law with you.
Custody of Frozen Embryos – Case in Point
The first California case dealing with this issue occurred in 2015. It involved Mimi Lee, who was 46 years old and had lived through cancer treatments. She believed she would not be able to have biological children in the future if not for the frozen embryos. Lee’s ex-husband, Stephen Findley, objected to the use of the embryos, and he had a legal document to support his stance: the couple had signed an agreement that the embryos would be destroyed in the event of a divorce.
The judge was required to wade through emotional testimony, accusations, and unrest, and ultimately ruled in favor of Findley. The embryos were to be destroyed. Her ruling was in line with what judges across the country have determined: One individual’s desire not to procreate outweighs another’s wish to have a child. With no federal regulations to provide guidance, state judges have had to base their decisions on the cases before them.
What Does Arizona’s Law Mean for Custody of Frozen Embryos for Californians?
Because the issues related to custody of frozen embryos are relatively new, precedents are being created with each new law and each new case. Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Illinois have all determined that women who wish to use their frozen embryos as a last chance to bear biological children should have a right to do so. But New York, Tennessee, and New Jersey, among others, have found in favor of the party who wished to have the embryos destroyed. California, like other states, requires fertility clinics to provide consent forms designating the disposition of frozen embryos in the event of a divorce. However, Arizona’s new law puts the power of these consent forms into question. Will other states, like California, follow suite with similar legislation? That remains to be seen. As it stands now, future cases involving the custody of frozen embryos in California could go either way. Courts could choose to enforce previously signed consent forms, or could opt to provide one party the opportunity to procreate. Continue reading →