Zuba & Associates, P.C.

Property settlement dispute hinges on frozen embryos

The vast majority of divorcing couples in Illinois can conclude asset division through either mutual negotiations or a slightly more guided route, such as mediation. However, situations can and do arise that make coming to an agreeable property settlement an exceptionally difficult aspect of the divorce process. Although heading to court over divorce issues is not a totally uncommon occurrence, an out-of-state couple has garnered national attention for their contention over a somewhat surprising part of their assets.

Just prior to walking down the aisle and saying "I do," the couple received horrifying news -- the wife was suffering from cancer. Informed that she would likely lose her fertility during treatment, the couple chose to create five embryos that were frozen and stored with the hopes of possibly having biological children sometime in the future. At the time, the couple signed an agreement that addressed what should be done with the embryos should various situations arise. According to that signed agreement, the provisions state that the embryos should be destroyed in the event of a divorce, which the husband has repeatedly pointed out.

The wife does not deny signing the agreement, but disagrees with her soon-to-be ex about whether the contract can actually be enforced. She claims that both parties merely skimmed the agreement before signing it and that she was not fully aware of what details it contained. Additionally, she does not believe that the contract adequately accounted for the possibility of either party changing their mind. Her ex asserts that he believes her desire to invalidate the contract stems from a financial motive and not from any perceived desire to produce a biological child.

The situation is no doubt an interesting one, although it is not without some measure of precedent from other states. As technology continues to advance and storing embryos perhaps rises in popularity for those rendered infertile by medical treatments, it is possible that couples in Illinois will soon have to address this issue during divorce. However, the same course of action applies here as it does to other issues in divorce. If a couple is unable to reach an agreement with conventional methods, it is likely that proceeding to court will provide a viable and appropriate alternative approach to reaching an agreeable property settlement.

Source: santacruzsentinel.com, "Frozen embryo trial: San Francisco woman testifies to save 'my babies'", Howard Mintz, July 16, 2015

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