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Divorce, Frozen Embryos

Years ago, test tube babies were a concept of Science Fiction novels. But today, a couples can remove eggs from the female, remove sperm from the male, and have the eggs fertilized, which creates an embryo. Medical staff can cryogenically freeze the embryo, which can then be thawed at a later time and implanted in the uterus of the mother or surrogate mother, where it grows as a fetus.

This scientific capability opens up a whole new area of family law. Disputes over frozen embryos have already arisen in various divorce cases.

One such case, Kass v. Kass was tried in a New York court. The dispute involved a wife who wanted to implant the embryo in her own uterus and the husband who didn’t want to become a parent. Both parties signed an in vitro fertilization (IVF) consent form prior to having the eggs removed, fertilized and frozen. The crux of the agreement was that both parties had to give their consent before the frozen embryos could be released from storage for any purpose. If the couple were to divorce, then the stored embryos would be addressed as part of the property settlement and released based on the court’s judgment.

Three weeks after signing the form, the couple became engaged in a divorce. At that time, they signed another agreement with each other that the embryos would be disposed of in the manner covered by the consent form, and neither spouse nor anyone else could claim custody of the embryos. The argument between the spouses was whether the consent applied before or after implantation. The court upheld their agreement based on New York contract law. The court could not allow implantation unless both parties agreed. In this case, it was against the husband’s wishes. Therefore, the court ruled there would be no implantation.

This case was in 1998, but a judge settled a similar dispute recently in November 2015 in a California case, based on a couple’s agreement prior to the IVF. He also ordered the destruction of the couple’s five frozen embryos.

If you have questions about IVF and need legal advice, discuss your concerns with attorney Chris Palermo. He will be glad to answer your questions and provide you with effective legal guidance.


“Married” for 20 Years—Husband Had Secretly Obtained Divorce to Protect Property

A New York woman made a stunning discovery in November, 2015, when a tax bill arrived at the home she and her husband had shared for most of their 20 year marriage. The lawyer she hired to investigate the apparent mistake discovered that the woman’s husband had filed and obtained a divorce from her, just four months after their wedding, in an apparent attempt to protect his assets. Nonetheless, he lived with her for the next 20 years, raised a child with her, made her his health-care proxy and granted her power of attorney.

Christina Carta Villi, a professor of Italian literature when she met her future husband Gabriel Villi in 1994, an attorney and travel agent. The couple “bought” a condo on West 55th and raised a son. What Carta Villi did not know, though, was that just four months after their wedding, Gabriel filed for a divorce in the Dominican Republic, telling the court that his marriage to Christina was “unbearable.” Though the couple did not live in the Dominican Republic, Gabriel Villi hired lawyers for himself and his wife there, and represented to the Dominican court that he and his wife had “an incompatibility of temperaments.” The divorce was never registered in New York.

When Carta Villi’s attorney looked into the omission of her name on the tax bill, she discovered that Gabriel Villi had used the Domican divorce decree to have her name removed from the deed. Carta Villi says Gabriel was motivated by greed, and she’s seeking to have the divorce nullified, arguing that she never authorized or consented to it, and that neither party ever appeared in the Dominican Republic proceeding.

Contact an Experienced New York Divorce and Family Law Attorney

At the law office of Chris Palermo, Esq., we bring more than 13 years of experience to men and women in divorce and family law matters, representing clients across Long Island. To learn more about our practice, see our divorce and family law page. For an appointment, send us an e-mail or call us toll free at 1-800-483-1527. We have offices located in Huntington, Hauppauge, Garden City, Babylon and New York City.