Frozen embryos spark child custody dispute

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Recently, Arizona residents may have seen news headlines regarding a situation faced by former spouses. In the event of a divorce, child custody can be a contentious matter. Not all custody situations can be resolved quickly, and in certain cases, the law may not even provide an immediately clear answer.

Years ago, an Arizona woman was diagnosed with cancer. Wanting to ensure the possibility of children in the future, the woman and her husband decided to freeze embryos that could be later fertilized using IVF. At the time the decision was made, the woman and her husband signed an agreement stating that the embryos would be discarded in the event of a divorce. It is unclear if the woman sought legal advice before signing the document.

The couple did indeed divorce, and afterward, the woman wanted to be allowed to use the embryos anyway. In most cases, Arizona law allows a divorced person to use embryos from a previous marriage, but the other biological parent and former spouse are excused from parental responsibilities such as child support. In this case, the signed agreement made the law inapplicable. A court decided that the woman could not personally use the embryos, but instead of being destroyed, they would be donated.

In any situation, it can be a good idea to seek professional legal advice before signing anything that has to do with child custody. Even in cases in which children are already born, happy and healthy, a parent can never be certain what the future holds. An experienced attorney can assist a client that needs to establish, modify or enforce a child custody order.