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Michigan Family Law Blog

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Frozen Human Embryos and Michigan Child Custody Issues

Are frozen embryos persons subject to a custody determination?

Michigan divorce lawyers are tasked with helping couples and their marriages. To that end, couples must divide their assets and property and determine whether one spouse will pay alimony or spousal support to the other. If the couple has minor children, there are also issues of child support, custody and visitation to work out. When couples cannot agree on these issues, a Family Court judge will decide for them.

An interesting and controversial child custody case is making its way through the Michigan court system. It involves an unmarried couple who are parents to one minor daughter who reportedly suffers from sickle cell disease. The couple has 10 frozen embryos in storage with the fertility clinic that they used while undergoing an assisted reproductive technology procedure known as in-vitro fertilization or “IVF”. In IVF, a woman’s eggs are harvested and combined with sperm in a laboratory in the hope that fertilization will occur and embryo(s) will result which can be transferred to a woman’s uterus and result in a pregnancy.

Pursuant to a contract between the couple and the fertility clinic, the frozen embryos cannot be thawed and implanted in the mother’s uterus in an attempt to have another baby without the consent of both parents. The mother wants to use the embryos to conceive another child in the hope a new sibling’s umbilical cord cells may be harvested and used in a cure for the daughter’s disease. But the father and former boyfriend has refused his consent.

The mom originally sought custody of the embryos from the Family Court, but the judge initially claimed the court only had jurisdiction over child support and parenting time of the existing daughter--not a "contract dispute" between an unmarried couple over the embryos. When the mom appealed, a higher court returned the case to that judge for “more work and an evidentiary hearing”. It will be interesting to follow this case through the appeals process.

Are frozen embryos “property” and subject to division in a contract dispute forum or are they “children” subject to custody determinations by the Family Court?

If you are considering getting divorced or need assistance with a child support or custody matter, Cameron C. Goulding Family Law and Mediation P.L.C. can help you. Contact us today to request a consultation.

From our office in Rochester, Michigan, we represent clients in all family law matters throughout Oakland, Livingston, Macomb, Lapeer, Genesee, and Wayne Counties. Together, we will help you and your family through this difficult time so you can look forward to a new start.

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