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Divorcing New Jersey couple battling over potential childbirth

Lately it may seem that family law in the United States is changing quickly, but the reality is that changes in the law are usually a long time coming, and family law is often slow to respond to new family dynamics and other factors: for example, science.

Consider the case of a New Jersey couple currently going through a divorce. The man and woman have made prior attempts at in vitro fertilization, but to no avail. The woman is 38 years old, and she fears her chances of having children are dwindling, so she is asking in the divorce settlement that the husband pay for having her eggs frozen and stored until they can be fertilized. The woman says freezing and storing the eggs will cost $20,000.

The case raises the question of whether or not a woman's eggs, or the potential to have children, can be regarded as marital property. There is no expectation that the husband will pay child support, since the wife doesn't want to use his sperm to fertilize the eggs. But there is another case in which the ownership of fertilized eggs is in question.

Two former spouses in Maryland are fighting over whether or not the 9 frozen embryos they made should be destroyed. The man and woman divorced in 2012, but before they did, the man's sperm was used to fertilize the woman's eggs. At the fertility clinic the man and woman signed a document that, in the event of divorce, would give the woman custody of the embryos.

Now the father says the document should be null and void because it undermines his right to decide whether or not he wants to have a child. The situation also raises questions about the father's potential child support obligations if the mother were to give birth again using the embryos in question.

These types of cases are somewhat rare, but they do illustrate an important aspect of any family law dispute: the need for skilled legal support.

Source: The Washington Times, "Are unborn children people or property in a divorce, and who decides?" Myra Fleischer, Sept. 19, 2013

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