The Complicated Issue of Frozen Embryos in a Divorce

Q: What happens to a couple’s cryopreserved embryos if they divorce?

Arizona divorce attorneys are there to help navigate a couple’s transition from “I do” to “I’m done”. Part of the journey out of wedlock often involves factors like the division of assets, spousal support, and child custody and support.

Generally, issues surrounding the division of assets are separate from issues of child custody and support. One deals with your property and the other deals with your children. But sometimes…the line between the two is blurred.

One example would be in the case of divorcing couples who have frozen embryos created through assisted reproductive technology known as In vitro fertilization, or “IVF”. Frozen embryos, created from the eggs and sperm of the couple, have the potential to be transferred to the woman’s uterus and, if implanted there, may develop into a baby or babies just like in a traditional pregnancy.

When couples undergo IVF, the woman’s ovaries are stimulated through hormonal injections to produce multiple eggs, rather than the single egg which is normally produced each month. When the timing is right, as indicated through closely-monitored bloodwork and ultrasound, the woman’s eggs are retrieved from the ovaries and fertilized in the lab using either her partner’s sperm or donor sperm. The resulting embryos may be frozen through a process called cryopreservation for future use by the couple in achieving a pregnancy. In vitro fertilization is often used by couples experiencing infertility, but is also used for fertility preservation in the face of certain cancer diagnoses.

When women are diagnosed with breast cancer– depending on the stage and nature of their diagnosis and their oncologist’s advice– they may be able to do IVF prior to undergoing aggressive cancer treatment which may harm their future fertility. This is considered because certain treatments like chemotherapy or radiation can sometimes leave them unable to use their own eggs to become pregnant after their cancer battle has been won. Married women interested in fertility preservation often choose IVF with their husband’s sperm, whereas unmarried women may choose egg-freezing, which is essentially the same process, but rather than fertilizing the retrieved eggs before freezing, the eggs are frozen unfertilized and may be fertilized after thawing using either the sperm of the woman’s then-partner or a donor.

A Phoenix woman who reportedly underwent IVF for fertility preservation survived breast cancer but unfortunately her marriage did not.

Reportedly, as a result of the cancer treatment, the woman’s only hope of having a biological child is through the use of the couple’s 7 frozen embryos. But her ex-husband– who filed for divorce, doesn’t want to “pursue children” with her, and “has concerns” over the financial obligations of having a child–will not consent to her use of the embryos. A Maricopa County Family Court judge, relying on a “consent provision” in the IVF contract between the couple has ordered that the frozen embryos be donated to a third-party. The woman is appealing that decision.

Divorce is complicated. If you are considering divorce or have questions regarding any family law matter, Cohen Family Law can help. Contact us for a free consultation.

From our office in Phoenix, we have helped families in transition throughout Arizona since 1982.