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Custody of unborn children brought into question

On Behalf of | May 30, 2019 | Legal Decision Making And Parenting Time |

A complicated family law case regarding parents’ rights recently made its way to the Arizona Court of Appeals. And while the court reached a decision, the case only managed to open a wide range of questions for the future regarding unborn children and parents’ rights.

Woman given rights to frozen embryos made with ex-husband

Before they were married, Ruby Torres and John Terrell decided to pursue in-vitro fertilization (IVF) to have children.

When they made the decision, Torres and Terrell explicitly agreed that the embryos could still be used if the couple divorced, but only if both parties provided written consent. However, when the couple divorced, the situation was not as easy as that.

Torres wanted the right to use the frozen embryos to have children, particularly if she remarried. Terrell did not agree. By their original agreement, Terrell’s dissent should have been enough to end Torres’ claim.

The Arizona Capitol Times reported that the case went all the way to the Court of Appeals in March, where the court determined that Torres could use the embryos despite the contract with Terrell.

Two significant issues could become complex

This situation is unique and unprecedented. And this precedent could impact families in many different ways–especially if they decide to use IVF. However, there are two immediate matters that this case could complicate:

  1. Child support: Judge Jennifer Campbell determined that even though Terrell did not want Torres to use the embryos, he could still be held accountable for paying child support. 
  2. Child custody: Additionally, even though Terrell protested Torres’ rights to the embryos, it is possible he could pursue custody for the children born from these embryos. Regardless of whether Torres remarries, Terrell is still the biological father of the embryos. However, if he pursued custody, he may have to establish legal paternity as well.

On average, 60,000 babies are born from IVF in the United States each year. And that number could only increase. And the precedent this case established brings parents’ rights to their embryos into question.

Situations like this are not new

Parents’ rights, as well as custody and child support, have been up for debate over unborn children before. However, most of the time the unborn children are already fetuses.

The decision from the Court of Appeals is still new. And there is no way to know what long-term impacts it could cause. However, this case leaves Arizona families who use IVF facing many unanswered questions about their rights, as well as the future of their families.