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Modern fertility options mean new custody challenges

Florida couples who seek arrangements such as surrogates, egg and sperm donation and other modern options available to become a parent should consider how parenting will be affected if they split. A recent case in another state serves as an illustration of how child custody can be complicated in situations where biological and genetic parenthood is at issue.

The two people in this case, a man and a woman were platonic friends for years when they reportedly decided to have children together, but the woman learned she was infertile. With the man's sperm and donor eggs and artificial insemination, she became pregnant. This past summer, the woman gave birth to fraternal twins, a girl and a boy.

After the birth of the children, the woman learned the man was gay and sought sole custody of the children claiming that the woman was only a surrogate. The woman maintains that she was unaware that, all along, the man intended to raise the children with his partner and not share custody with her. She also seeks custody even though she is not biologically related to the children to whom she gave birth.

The two are fighting over who the legal parents are of the twin infants. If the courts determine the woman who gave birth to the twins is indeed their mother, than the case will most likely turn into a child custody dispute. For now, the woman is forced to try and assert her parental rights before she can even seek custody of them.

This case is an especially complex example of parental rights involving not only a child custody dispute, but also who will be deemed the biological or legal parents of the children. Although this case takes place in Texas, experts say that more cases like it will emerge in this and other states in the future. According to the birth mother, the two friends agreed to share custody of the children and there was no written parenting or surrogate agreement between them.

In Florida, family courts are charged with prioritizing the best interests of the child in custody disputes. Parents can come to an agreement on their own about custody issues, however if parents cannot agree, a judge will determine whether one or both parents will have legal and physical custody. The case may be the first of its kind in the nation and has the potential to break new legal ground in considering biological or genetic relations as a factor in parental rights and custody arrangements.

Source: KTRK-TV, "Parental rights lawsuit may be landmark case in motherhood," Tom Abrahams, Sep. 21, 2012

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