Embryos: the newest child custody dispute?

During a dissolution, Washington couples will need to make a lot of different decisions. The decisions will increase if the couple has children. In addition to solving other dissolution of marriage issues, like property division and spousal support, couples will also need to make decisions on child custody issues. Likely each parent will have an idea of how custody should be split. If there is a disagreement, a Washington court may decide the issue in the best interests of the children.

Generally, the children created during the marriage are living, breathing kids. However, over the past few decades, reproductive technology has created new issues that family law courts need to deal with. In particular, couples have seen specialists and have created embryos that are being stored until the couples are ready to use them. If implanted into a woman, these embryos have the potential to develop into a baby.

In the past, these embryos have been treated as property and have been included in the property settlement. However, there has been a shift in the United States to treating these embryos as children, and dividing them based on child custody principals. This creates new questions about what to do with these embryos when a couple proceeds with a dissolution. Can a person use the embryo after the marriage has ended? Does the other spouse need to pay child support for a child born after the marriage? What are each parent’s rights to that child?

Many of these issues cannot be answered because family law courts have not caught up to the science. There are scenarios that are possible that Washington family laws just didn’t contemplate. Therefore, special care must be taken when couples who have used reproductive technology to create a family decide to end their marriage.

Source: The Washington Times, “Are unborn children people or property in a divorce, and who decides?,” Myra Fleischer, Sept. 19, 2013