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Maryland judge makes landmark custody decision for frozen embryos

During divorce, child custody determinations can be a contentious issue, for the parents and for the children. However, in some child custody scenarios, dispute can be over frozen embryos, created while the couple was still married.

In the first decision of its kind in Maryland, a judge recently made an order giving sole custody of frozen embryos to the mother in a custody dispute. The couple had divorced in May 2012, but they continue to battle over custody of their three-year-old daughter, as well as over custody of the couple's frozen embryos. In a previous decision, sole custody of the daughter was awarded to the father. This custody determination was made in part due to an allegation of neglect.

Child custody decisions can be made either by the parents, by mutual agreement, or by the court. When the court steps in to make the determination, it takes into consideration a number of important factors. One particularly important factor is the best interest of the child. Courts also consider the child's preference, if the child is old enough to express a preference; the health of the parents and ability to care for the child; and parental behavior, such as any evidence of abuse by the parent.

When custody of embryos is an issue, there are more complicated considerations, and the law is not settled in this area. In this Maryland case, prior to the procedure, the couple had signed a contract that stipulated that in the event of separation, the embryos would go to the mother. The judge ruled that the contract was valid and enforceable.

Source: Colesville.Patch.com, "Maryland Woman Wins Custody of Frozen Embryos," Bailey Henneberg, Jan. 7, 2013

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