Frozen Embryo Case Raises Child Support Issues
The latest scientific technology that allows human embryos to be frozen and used years – even decades — after fertilization to produce offspring is raising legal questions about the rights of all involved.
Among the many questions that have been recently considered is whether a child born by in vitro fertilization (IVF) can be the beneficiary of court-ordered child support, especially when the father isn't informed of the pregnancy. So far, trial court rulings in many states have been inconsistent on the matter, leaving it likely that the issue will be taken to higher courts.
The question came up in a recent Connecticut case, part of what lawyers say is the beginning of a growing number of frozen embryo-related litigations. Cases of first impression on the subject of reproductive law have been considered recently in Pennsylvania and Massachusetts courts as well.
As IVF procedures are becoming increasingly common, and the rate of divorce shows no signed of ebbing, the issues presented in Caroland Lewis v. Aaron Lewis will continue to be relevant in the foreseeable future, said Jon T. Kukucka, of Budlong & Barrett in Hartford. "I think as more people get this type of treatment, and the number [of embryos] are stored for a period of years, you're likely to see these legal issues being raised again," Kukucka said.
The Lewises marriage was dissolved by the Superior Court in 2008. As part of the divorce agreement, the parties agreed that embryos that were created and stored frozen during the marriage would be destroyed.
But after the marriage ended, Caroland Lewis had one of the embryos and a child, also named Aaron, was born on April 29, 2011. Afterwards, she filed a motion with the court asking her ex-husband for child support payments. The adult Aaron Lewis responded by seeking to have his ex-wife sanctioned for contempt of court. She used the frozen embryo to become pregnant without his approval, Lewis argued, and therefore, he could not be financially responsible.
Lewis, who is blind from a gunshot injury that occurred several years ago, is a pastor and runs a nonprofit to raise awareness about the dangers of street gangs. He was ordered to pay about $332 a month in child support, even though he relies on Social Security disability income, in the amount of $1,700 per month.
Lewis appealed the child support award of Family Court Magistrate Harris Lifshitz, arguing it was unjust and in violation of an agreement he had with his ex-wife that the embryos would be destroyed.
Kukucka and three others from his firm, including a clerk and two lawyers, agreed to handle Lewis' appeal to the Superior Court of the family magistrate's decision. "It was a pro bono matter, we were referred to the case through Greater Hartford Legal Services," Kukucka said.