Reproductive science may affect child custody proceedings

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Science is encroaching on the realm of child custody as it steams ahead into the world of frozen embryos. Already one of the toughest portions of a divorce for couples in Orlando, Florida, it seems that some couples are starting to argue over the rights to decide on the fates of any embryos the couple created together. Previously considered property, it seems that decisions in some states have elicited the possibility that this might actually be a child custody matter, considering the property has the potential to become a living child one day.

For instance, one couple who decided to divorce had put aside nine frozen embryos. The couple had signed an agreement with the fertility center when this happened, giving custody of the embryos to the woman in case of a split. But she was deemed an unfit parent by the courts when the man was given sole custody of their three-year-old daughter during the divorce proceedings. This brings several worries to the table for the father: He does not want his ex-wife to become a parent again because she may not be able to properly provide for another child and he does not want to be held responsible for child support when he wanted the embryos destroyed. Would it be right to hold a person liable for child support when she or he wanted the embryos destroyed instead of used and brought into this world? Even if the person using the embryos waived child support, she or he may still need to seek assistance from the state. The government may then, in turn, sue the other donor of the embryo – the other biological parent – for the support it has paid.

Experts are worried about how quickly reproductive science is moving forward as it eclipses the law and continues on. It makes many areas of divorce rather murky and uncertain, forcing family law judges to make decisions that are relevant to the current social climate. Legal issues will likely continue to arise as fertility techniques become more and more viable. Perhaps other techniques may arise in the future, too, and legislators will have to play catch-up each and every time.

Source: Washington Times, “Are unborn children people or property in a divorce, and who decides?” Myra Fleischer, Sep. 19, 2013

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