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Proposed legislation would nullify frozen embryo contracts

Couples decide for any one of a number of reasons to freeze embryos to use at a later time to have children. When they do, they often sign a contract that stipulates what will happen to the embryos if they divorce. Will they go to one of the spouses, be destroyed, donated to research or handled in some other manner?

Arizona state lawmakers are considering legislation that would invalidate any contracts between couples regarding frozen embryos and leave the decision of their fate to the courts if divorcing couples disagree about what to do with them. The Senate version of the bill (SB 1393) has passed. The matter is now in the hands of the House.

The bill provides guidelines that the courts must follow in these cases. If both spouses produced the embryos and both want to use them to have children, the court is required to award them to the one who can provide "the best chance for the embryos to develop to birth." If only one of them is related to the embryos biologically, that person will receive them. The other spouse cannot be held financially responsible for the child(ren) produced.

Not surprisingly, there are advocates with strong opinions on both sides of the proposed legislation. Among its supporters is the Center for Arizona Policy (CAP), an anti-abortion group. The group said, "This bill balances the interests of the spouses by removing any right, obligation, or interest between the spouse that no longer wants to be a parent and any resulting child." CAP is advocating for an Arizona woman who signed a contract with her former spouse stipulating that if they broke up, they would donate their frozen embryos. Now she wants to keep them, but her ex-husband is fighting her in court.

Opponents argue that if the bill becomes law, it would retroactively nullify contracts currently in place and force people to become parents who don't want to be. One infertility organization argues that the bill would "take away individuals' rights to determine whether or not they have children –- and replace it with a government-mandated decision."

Even if it passes the house and is signed into law by the governor, there are likely to be legal challenges. Divorcing Arizonans with such contracts will no doubt be watching the fate of this legislation. A family law attorney can provide guidance and information if you have concerns.

Source: 12 News, "Frozen embryo bill would dissolve prior agreements among couples," Joe Dana, March 12, 2018

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