Connecticut Court Rules Against Husband in Frozen-Embryo Divorce Case

October 31, 2019by Edmund H. Mahony
A 2013 file image of Goblet, a long tube device that contains a vitrification freezing platform for embryos and sperm in a liquid nitrogen tank, at the Reproductive Science Center in San Ramon, Calif. (Jim Stevens/Bay Area News Group/TNS)

HARTFORD, Conn. — The Connecticut Supreme Court sidestepped the question of when life begins Wednesday when it ruled in a divorce case that previously frozen embryos a couple had created during their marriage are marital property and can be destroyed over the husband’s objection.

The court decided that an agreement the couple made prior to creating the embryos — an agreement that provided for destruction of the embryos in the event of divorce — was an enforceable contact between Jessica Bilbao and Timothy R. Goodwin.

In its decision, the court referred to “pre-embryos.”

Goodwin asserted during the couple’s divorce in 2016 that he had changed his mind. He wanted to preserve the embryos so he and Bilboa could have children, should they reconcile. In the alternative, he said he wanted the embryos to be donated so another couple could have a child or children.

The lower court hearing the divorce ruled that the agreement was not a valid, enforceable contract, but awarded the embryos to Bilboa on the finding that she had a stronger claim than her soon-to-be ex-husband.

The Supreme Court, in a unanimous opinion written by Justice Gregory T. D’Auria, reversed the lower court, saying the agreement the couple had signed with the reproductive services center responsible for cryopreserving the embryos was enforceable.

How such a dispute would be decided in the absence of an agreement, a dispute that could address questions about the origins of life, are preserved for “another day,” the court said.

“ … Because we conclude that the parties in this case had an enforceable agreement, we do not decide what a court must do in the absence of an enforceable agreement,” the court held. “For example, we leave for another day whether, in the absence of an enforceable agreement, balancing or contemporaneous mutual consent is the appropriate approach, and what the details of such an approach would entail.”

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©2019 The Hartford Courant (Hartford, Conn.)

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