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Resolving frozen embryos issues during divorce

Matters pertaining to child custody can be some of the most disputed issues during a divorce. The same can be said for issues pertaining to what should happen to the frozen embryos of estranged North Carolina couples who have been involved in vitro fertilization.

Couples are generally required to sign a consent agreement for storage facilities that house their embryos. The documents only briefly touch on what should happen to the stored embryos if the couple separates. Couples are able to choose whether the facility should continue to freeze the embryos, or if they are to be donated to someone else or medical research or destroyed. It is not unusual for couples to not consider that a divorce may potentially occur, and when it does, they are tasked with making significant life decisions with someone from whom they are alienated.

These issues differ from child custody disputes in that there is little case law that can provide guidance and little protection for those who are seeking a solution to the disposition of their frozen embryos. There is also a question as to whether the agreements couples sign at IVF facilities can be legally enforced. Legally, embryos are generally considered to be simply the personal property of both parents. Exceptions might include sperm donors who have no legal rights when single women are undergoing IVF on their own. The courts generally rule on the basis that one spouse cannot force the other spouse to become a parent against his or her wishes. The courts are also hesitant to force a couple to become parents if both refuse to do so.

A family law attorney may provide a client with guidance regarding complicated divorce legal issues such as this one. Rather than having the court make a decision, an attorney could seek to negotiate an agreement with the other party that would cover this matter.