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Actress’ embryo dispute spotlights ‘modern’ family law issue (2 of 2)

Welcome back. In our last post we began discussing the extremely complex issue of embryonic custody disputes.

Disputes over the fate of frozen embryos occur when a couple that decided to conceive a child through in vitro fertilization breaks up -- or one partner changes his or her mind about becoming a parent -- while the embryos are still on ice.

The modern-day family law issue was brought into national attention recently after it was reported that the ex-fiancé of "Modern Family" star Sofia Vergara is fighting her for custody over two frozen embryos that they had conceived before ending their relationship.

The 42-year-old actress’ ex wrote an op-ed published in The New York Times recently, saying that the former couple had signed a contract stating that the embryos would only be brought to term if both parties agreed, but he is arguing for the agreement to be thrown out because it does not specify what happens to the embryos if the couple breaks up, as California law requires.

According to a fertility specialist interviewed by CNN, couples typically enter legal agreements that grant one party ultimate authority over the frozen embryos, also known as a power of attorney. In most cases, it is the woman who is given power of attorney, though it doesn’t have to be.

However, these precautions are not taken in every case, which can create a complex legal battle that many courts are unprepared to handle.

It appears that there have been fewer than a dozen cases involving parties fighting over the fate of frozen embryos, but in a majority of the cases, the party who was trying to get custody of the embryos in order to have them carried to term against the wishes of the other party lost.

Undoubtedly, embryonic custody disputes will only become more common in coming years as in vitro fertilization becomes more common, so the courts must prepare themselves to answer these difficult questions. State legislatures may also have to step in to make sure that the rights of every person -- and embryo -- involved are protected.

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