Family law: AZ Court of Appeals rules in frozen embryo case

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The Arizona Court of Appeals recently ruled in a case regarding whether a divorced woman has the right to become pregnant using frozen embryos without the consent of her ex-husband. In what has become a contentious family law topic, this case actually helped spur changes to the state’s laws regarding how viable embryos will be handled in the event of divorce. Motivated by this case, the state passed legislation last year to award embryos to the parent who wishes to have children, while rescinding the parental rights of the other party who does not wish to have children. However, the law does not apply to this particular situation because the law did not exist when the couple first took the matter to court several years ago.

The matter started in 2014 when the ex-wife received a diagnosis of bilateral breast cancer and her doctors told her she would not be able to conceive after chemotherapy. Purportedly, the couple decided to use frozen embryos to protect the woman’s fertility due to her desire to have children. Apparently, the couple was dating at the time but eventually married and then divorced. The ex-husband had apparently reluctantly agreed to use his sperm only after his ex-wife stated she would use an ex-boyfriend as the donor.

Now, it appears the ex-husband could be liable for child support should his ex-wife decide to use the frozen embryos to have children. The Court of Appeals ruled 2 to 1 that the woman’s right to bear children outweighed her ex-husband’s desire not to have children. The couple had signed a contract in 2014 in which they agreed not to use the frozen embryos without the consent of both parties, and the ex-husband petitioned the Maricopa County Superior Court to prevent his ex-wife from using the embryos and, rather, donate them to a third party. However, the appeals court’s ruling overturned that.

The ex-husband can appeal his case to the Arizona Supreme Court. This is an unusual family law matter that has brought many issues to light regarding parental rights after divorce. While most couples will not have to contend with such matters, ensuring one’s rights are protected throughout the process is paramount, and any divorcing party would be well served by utilizing the services of a competent family law attorney.