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Maryland judge gives custody of embryos to wife

A Maryland family law judge overseeing a couple’s divorce has awarded custody of nine frozen embryos to a woman against the wishes of her former husband. Interestingly, the same judge awarded child custody of the parties’ three-year-old daughter to the father.

Unable to conceive children naturally, the couple turned to in-vitro fertilization in order to help them have a family. In connection with this treatment, the mother had her fallopian tubes removed, meaning she will not be able to have children naturally were she to choose to enter a second marriage.

The woman’s former husband wanted to destroy the embryos. He objects to the judge’s decision, claiming that by awarding his ex-wife custody, the court is forcing him to become a father again with his ex-wife, even though that is not what he wants. The father’s attorney also pointed out the incongruity between giving his ex-wife custody of their frozen embryos while at the same time awarding him custody of the couple’s one daughter, allegedly because his ex-wife was “unfit” to be a full-time parent.

However, the judge relied on an agreement that the couple signed when they began their fertility treatment. The agreement specifically provided that should the couple choose to divorce, the woman would maintain control of the embryos and, apparently, would have the right to decide whether to implant them and, effectively, conceive another child.

The father is currently seeking an order that would prevent his ex-wife from implanting the embryos until he can appeal the judge’s decision.

While in-vitro fertilization is becoming more common, it is still an area around which the law is both complex and evolving. A child custody lawyer in Maryland may be the best resource for couples who are both considering this practice and may want better to understand the legal ramifications of it.

Source: Greenbelt Patch “Maryland woman wins custody of frozen embryos,” Bailey Henneberg, Jan. 7, 2013.

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