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Do property division divorce rules apply to unmarried couples?

Property disputes in divorces usually center on large items like real estate or back accounts. Due to advances in reproductive technology, however, such disagreements may also extend to much more personal issues.

In a recent example, “Modern Family” actress Sofia Vergara made headlines over a dispute with her former fiancé. The couple had explored in vitro fertilization when they were together. Now that they are separated, Vergara’s ex has filed a complaint, requesting the court prevent Vergara from destroying their fertilized embryos. 

A family law court confronted with this novel issue will have several issues to consider. First, the contract signed between Vergara and her ex stated that both parties’ consent would be required before the embryos could be brought to term. However, the contract did not contemplate the possibility of the couple separating. As a result, the court will have to decide whether the contract is valid or should be voided, as Vergara’s ex has requested.

In an equitable distribution jurisdiction like Maryland, notably, the court is generally more concerned with fairness, rather than an exact 50-50 division of marital property. However, Vergara and her ex never married. In addition, common law marriages cannot be created in Maryland, although the state will recognize valid common law marriages that were created in other states.

Our law firm focuses on family law issues, including divorce. We know that contract law can apply to many types of assets in the division of a marital estate, such as retirement or life insurance policies, or even property titles. However, an embryonic custody dispute raises the question of which contract and/or child custody laws should apply to resolve the dispute, as well as whether the embryos should even be regarded as property in the first place.

Source: CNN, “Sofia Vergara's ex Nick Loeb speaks out about frozen embryos dispute,” Faith Karimi, April 30, 2015

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