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Reproductive Lawyers and ART for Gay Parents to Be

March 31, 2014 | By: | Filed under: Birth Certificates, Birth Orders, Gestational Carrier, Gestational Carrier Arrangements, Parentage Orders, Pre-Birth Orders, Questions about the Office, Sam Sex Parenting and Reproductive Law, Surrogacy, The Journey to Parenthood, Third-Party Assisted Reproduction

Sometimes I feel like people don’t get what I do for a living.  At parties when someone asks me what I do and I tell them I am reproductive lawyer, I get a blank stare and an “uh huh” response.  I then explain that I am a lawyer that helps people have babies.  I may get a smile but I usually can tell that my fellow partygoer remains confused.  He or she will often ask me a question about adoption, assuming that I am an adoption attorney.  I next explain that while adoption law is part of my job, with my specific area of practice most of the time the adoption is just for one parent in a same-sex relationship who is seeking to establish parental rights after a surrogate birth.  If I am really lucky I get to talk about third-party assisted reproduction and all the ways people can have babies these days–and all the risk that comes with this technology.  And I am not talking about medical risks, or the risk of not getting pregnant, as third-party assisted reproductive technology (“Third Party ART”) is unbelievably successful.  I am talking about the risks presented by the laws that may apply to these family building arrangements.  Most people have no idea how complicated these laws are and how important my job can be to help ensure that all the work doctors are doing to help people become a family, results in a legally-recognized “forever” family.

And it is not just my fellow partygoer who fails to understand the importance of what I do with respect to Third-Party ART.  Many doctors have no idea the complexity of the legal landscape their patients may be facing.  So when Gay Parents to Be in partnership with RMA CT recently contacted me and told me about an upcoming event it was having with the Triangle Community Center in Connecticut, and that they needed a reproductive lawyer to help round out the panel, I jumped at the opportunity.  How could I not participate when asked if I could help explain why a reproductive lawyer needs to be a part of a patients’ ART team, and why what I do really matters?  Would I help?  No brainer, just tell me where to go and when to be there.

 Answer:

Saturday, April 5th 12pm – 2pm

Triangle Community Center

618 West Avenue, Norwalk CT

 

I often think that although we are all blessed when we become parents, those of us who faced challenges in becoming parents are more appreciative of our children and our family.  There are simple and seemingly insignificant things that couples that conceive without jumping through hoops take for granted, like the birth certificate with their name on it.  For those people who may have to spend tens of thousands of dollars and most certainly need a team of doctors and nurses and other reproductive angels to have a baby, that birth certificate is the symbol or proof of their victorious transition to parenthood. The birth certificate is often the one document that says “forever” family more than any other.[i]

While Third-Party ART, like surrogacy, is helping more and more people achieve their dream of having a family, it also raises more and more legal issues about how we protect that family.  My job often boils down to making sure that birth certificate is an “untouchable” document and to do that I need to be involved in the process just as early – sometimes even earlier – than the medical team.  Preparing the legal landscape ahead of time is just as important as preparing a surrogate’s uterine lining.  Just as a reproductive endocrinologist is going to monitor hormone levels and the thickness of a surrogate’s uterine lining in preparation for embryo transfer, one of my roles as a reproductive lawyer is to make sure everything that the medical ART team is doing to create this family, will be legally protected.

Most people entering into surrogacy arrangements understand that they need a contract with their surrogate.  What they often fail to understand is that the contract isn’t just about addressing the relationship with the surrogate or the financial commitments being made to her.  That surrogacy agreement is going to lay the foundation for obtaining a birth certificate and sometimes having the wrong wording, or not having specific wording in a surrogacy agreement can prevent the birth certificate from ever being issued, or being issued with the right people’s names on it.  Although many states have statutes or cases that specifically provide mechanisms for obtaining this birth certificate, in far too many states the complexities regarding the establishment of parentage is far more complicated and/or downright tricky.  Although a state may be “surrogacy friendly” the laws in that state may vary county-by-county and even judge-by-judge.  Even more, as the country becomes friendlier to marriage equality, and state laws are becoming more progressive, the definition of what a family is may now include three parents, or “intimate partners” who share parenting responsibilities.  It is this ever-changing legal landscape applicable to Third-Party ART that makes addressing the legal side of these family building plans essential.

As one of my colleagues has [not so] facetiously said, sometimes whether or not you can get a birth certificate comes down to which elevator button you are pushing in the courthouse.  I am really thrilled that I am going to have this opportunity to explain what I do, and hopefully ensure that more people who are considering entering into Third-Party ART arrangements understand how reproductive lawyers can help them, when we can and should be helping them, and helping ensure that when it is time for them to get their birth certificate it (hopefully) doesn’t come down to which button they are pushing in the courthouse elevator.  And if it does come down to elevator buttons, that there is confidence that the attorney who has been hired to press the elevator button can successfully navigate the legal landscape necessary to obtain that birth certificate.

 

 

 

 


[i] This blog does not address issues regarding the enforceability of birth certificates for same-sex couples.

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Surrogacy Symplified — The Masked Marauder of Misinformation Unmasked!

July 28, 2012 | By: | Filed under: Birth Certificates, Birth Orders, Current Affairs, In the News, IVF, Parentage Orders, Personal Musings, Pre-Birth Orders, Questions about the Office, Sam Sex Parenting and Reproductive Law, Same Sex Parenting and Reproductive Law, Surrogacy in New York, The Journey to Parenthood, Third-Party Assisted Reproduction, Uncompensated Surrogacy

My phone has been ringing off the hook with questions from prospective clients about surrogacy. Everyone with whom I speak is terribly confused and seems to have received bad or misinformation from someone or somewhere. At first I thought it just a coincidence but now I wonder whether there is someone out in the world spreading vicious rumors about surrogacy thus causing many, many people to live as if they were in the fun house at the amusement park — you know the one with all those crazy mirrors that makes you look totally distorted (and always insanely fat or ugly) — sadly thinking that surrogacy is or will not be an option for them for building their family. As if the world of infertility wasn’t enough of an amusement park fun house, we now need the NOvary(tm) to have another partner in crime, a masked marauder (or perhaps multiple marauders) disseminating incorrect information about surrogacy? I don’t think so!

I’m going to take this opportunity to try and clarify surrogacy and all it’s intricacies especially in New York (most of them legal issues so it’s a good thing I’m a lawyer). As we are dealing with this Masked Marauder of Misinformation (who hereinafter shall be referred to as “MMM”), I am putting on my favorite caped crusader costume (wanna guess which character it is?) and I am taking the MMM, DOWN!

So what is my biggest beef with our friend the MMM? Mostly that s/he is telling everyone, including doctors, things about surrogacy that are so totally wrong people think surrogacy is not an option for them when in fact it may be a very viable option to become a parent. For some of us, surrogacy is our ONLY option to become a parent, and in this case MMM is doing the greatest disservice by making people believe that unless they MOVE half way across the good ol’ USofA they won’t be able to have a baby (and yes, one person with whom I spoke recently was told he would have to move to a different state in order to become a parent).

Before I begin my discourse and try and simplify these issues so you have the basics under your belt, I want to state for the record that I have no clue who or what MMM is or why all of this wrong information is circulating. Nor do I think MMM is one person. Rather, I think MMM is a combination of information being provided by physicians and their staff, people’s well meaning friends, and the Internet.

We know we all have to be careful about what we read on the internet (including this blog, don’t rely just on me, if you want to pursue surrogacy please find a good reproductive lawyer, find out what laws are going to apply to your individual situation and then start the process). So if you are reading this because you’ve had a web-based MMM encounter, I’ll do my best but I don’t know what you read and where you read it.

With respect to what our friends tell us, if your MMM experience came from a well-meaning waiting-room compatriot . . . well my attitude about that is that unless they actually went through it, they know Bubkis (Yiddish or born and bread NY’er for: “nothing”, “jack sh-t”, or “less than nothing”). And even then, when I say went through it, there is a vast array of what people think they “went through” as an infertile person. There is nothing more annoying than the person who goes on an on about how hard their battle with infertility was and how painful, expensive, and emotionally demanding it was (as you listen and think “OMG I’ve finally met someone who ‘gets it'”) and then you find out they did two IUI’s and conceived twins and are back for number three. Whereas you did 5 IUI’s and are on your third IVF cycle and also have had a miscarriage somewhere in there and, you’re still trying for number one! (BTW, doesn’t that just drive you crazy, those people who did one or two IUI’s — and who no doubt suffered — and who think they know how you feel; who think they have a clue how hard infertility can be?!?). So in this context I am not just talking about infertility, I mean surrogacy, and unless your “friend” had a child or attempted to have a child through surrogacy you have most definitely had an encounter with MMM.

With respect to information provided to you by a physician, here I must tread carefully. All I can say is that yes, you have had an experience with MMM. As noted above, in this blog I am addressing the legal issues because I am a lawyer. I defer medical issues to dr’s because even when I put on my “white doctor’s coat” (ala The Infertility Survival Handbook), I acknowledge that I did not go to medical school or become a licensed, board certified reproductive endocrinologist and thus should not be considered to be providing medical advice or information (although the book was read by three physicians before going to print). Just as I will not talk about medical issues to which I may not have full and complete information, I don’t think doctors should be giving you legal information. Some of my colleagues and I have a real “thing” about how frequently doctor’s do and say things that constitute practicing law without a license. It’s MMM at its most annoying (and personally offensive).

What MMM myths do I need to dispell or simplify? Well let’s start with what is annoying me the most and what I know most about: surrogacy in NY.

Contrary to the MMM you have heard, you CAN do surrogacy in NY!! However, MMM is definitely impacting people’s ability to do it as many clinic’s are so afraid of surrogacy laws in NY that they won’t even discuss it or do an embryo transfer even in a completely legal, uncompensated compassionate surrogacy arrangement. What you cannot do (and dr’s should not do) is an embryo transfer within the State of NY when your surrogate (a/k/a gestational carrier) is being compensated and lives in and will deliver in NYS. A NY State resident cannot carry a baby for another NY State resident for compensation above and beyond limited pregnancy-related expenses (please talk to a reproductive lawyer, adoption attorney, or family lawyer about what expenses are considered “pregnancy-related” and would be permissible under NY law). If you have a friend or family member who is willing to carry a baby for you for free that is amazing, and legal. If she needs reimbursement for pregnancy-related expenses that MAY be okay, depending on the type of expense and the amount (this where you need legal advice). I typically am very strict about whether or not these expenses can be paid; I am very conservative because I don’t want anything to cause problems when I am getting birth certificates and just like every where else in the world we go, you get the wrong judge and what you know is legal, permissible and you have even done before, THIS judge won’t let you do! Indeed, I was reading an article written in The Family Advocate, a magazine published by The American Bar Association for its members, written by my colleagues Diane Hinson, Esq., & Maureen McBrien, which addressed the status of surrogacy laws around the country, and they printed a quotation from another reproductive lawyer that made me laugh out loud: “[a]s one ART attorney put it, the result in any given case can depend on ‘which elevator button you need to push at the courthouse.'”

So the bottom line in NY is that if you have a friend or family member who will carry a baby for you, who will be your surrogate, you can enter into a surrogacy arrangement with her. She cannot be compensated or paid the way surrogates are in many other states, but depending on circumstances, she may be entitled to reimbursement of minimal expenses directly related to the pregnancy. You also can obtain birth certificates with your names on them. You will need legal documents before you can do the embryo transfer and it is very important you have these documents prepared. However, the documents you will have prepared are different from gestational carrier or surrogacy “contracts” and are not enforceable the way surrogacy contracts are in certain other states. That said, the documents your attorney will prepare for you can be very helpful if something were to go wrong during the pregnancy or after birth, and may also help your attorney get the birth certificate. Every attorney has their own practices and procedures (in every state), so you may want to interview a couple of attorneys to find one whose personal practice make you feel the most comfortable.

One issue you may have, however, is finding a doctor in NY to perform the embryo transfer even when you are doing a compassionate surrogacy like that which I have been describing. Unfortunately, due to the power of MMM, some clinics are electing NOT to do any embryo transfers under any circumstances or fact patterns, period. They are losing business by taking this position and it’s sad when you have been working with a clinic for years and they tell you that you need a surrogate, your sister agrees to carry the baby for you for free, and your beloved doctor refuses to do the embryo transfer. I am so upset by this increasing trend that I have on my (way too long) “To-Do” list, to write a white paper or perhaps law review article on why doctors are wrong to take this position.

However, in my opinion doctors may not be wrong in declining to perform embryo transfers in the State of NY when the surrogate is going to be compensated, or paid when she resides in a state in which surrogacy is legal. If you have found a surrogate in Illinois, a State in which surrogacy is legal and reasonably easy to do, you likely cannot bring your Illinois surrogate to NY to do the embryo transfer at your clinic even if this is where your embryos are stored. There are a few clinics that may do the embryo transfer if everything about the surrogacy is legal in another state, in this case Illinois, but arguably because you are a NY resident and the embryo transfer is taking place in NY, a doctor might be found to be violating NY’s statute against facilitating paid surrogacy arrangements. Arguably, this statute was meant to apply to paid surrogacies taking pace within the state of NY (not Illinois) but a your doctor may not want to risk a potential felony violation over an issue of statutory interpretation.

MMM aside, as a NY resident you also have the option of locating a surrogate in a state in which it is legal to compensate the surrogate (Connecticut is another example of a state in which compensated surrogacy is legal), and once you have all the appropriate legal documents in place, you can either have any frozen embryos transferred to CT or undergo the IVF cycle in CT with your surrogate undergoing the embryo transfer procedure. The baby will be born in CT and you will obtain a CT birth certificate with your names on it.

So let’s recap for NY’ers: MMM notwithstanding: it is not illegal to enter into a surrogacy arrangement. You can either find a friend or family member to carry the baby for you within (or outside of the state) New York or you can find a surrogate in another state, preferably a surrogacy friendly state, to carry the baby for you, and you will compensate the surrogate. Depending on the State, whether New York, Illinois, or Connecticut, you will need legal documents before the embryo transfer can take place; and the process by which you obtain birth certificates with your name on it differs between the states and even within a state (they can vary county by county and even sometimes Judge by Judge — this is why I cracked up over the elevator button quote; it’s beyond accurate).

You will need a reproductive lawyer in the state in which your surrogate is to deliver the baby to tell you what that process will be AND what needs to be included in the agreement you enter into BEFORE you do the embryo transfer (the surrogacy agreement or contract). Florida, for example, requires that specific statutory language be included in your surrogacy contract. BTW, another MMM fact to dispel. If you enter into a surrogacy in Florida, you are NOT adopting your baby. You are doing a surrogacy or gestational carrier arrangement just as you would be in Illinois or Connecticut (or many other states). The MMM on this issue stems from the fact that the surrogacy statute is included within the Florida Adoption Statute. Just because the surrogacy provisions are contained in the adoption statute does NOT result in or mean that you are adopting the baby, your baby, which your surrogate delivers in Florida. A reproductive lawyer in Florida can explain this process in greater detail.

Wherever you live, whether NY or another state, MMM has led to lots of confusion over what you can and cannot do with respect to surrogacy. NY’ers are, I think, experiencing the most confusion right now. Hopefully statutes will be passed in the next year or two that will make almost all forms of surrogacy legal in NY, and which will permit NY’ers to stay in NY to have their babies via surrogacy. A member of the NY legislature, Amy Paulin, has introduced a bill that will make surrogacy legal in NY. She needs help from her constituents and other residents of the State of New York, so if you are interested in helping another state become surrogacy friendly, please seek her out on FaceBook (she specifically requested that people post to FaceBook) or send her a letter in support of her efforts. Please, for me??? FaceBook, quick post, Go Amy, Go Surrogacy, Go NY!

Surrogacy is easy in many states, but due to MMM many people are confused over the process, the steps involved, and the cost. Some of the confusion is well-founded. As noted above, in some states it can depend on the Judge to whom you get assigned which will determine how easily you will obtain a birth certificate or whether it can be done pre or post birth. Many states have set procedures by statutes, others rely on cases decided by Judges, and still others prohibit it altogether or prohibit certain aspects of it. Traditional surrogacy (where the surrogate uses her own egg to become pregnant) is illegal in many, many states and if you enter into this type of surrogacy you may well have to adopt the baby in order to legalize your parental rights; and you are still at risk for the surrogate to assert parental rights as it is her genetic material she is carrying.

The questions you need to ask are as follows:

Is surrogacy legal where I live, and if so what restrictions (if any) are there on the process, what documents do I need to have prepared before embryo transfer, and what steps need to be taken to establish my parental rights? If using an egg donor in addition to a surrogate, does that impact any aspect of the process? You may for example, need to do a second-parent or step-parent adoption in the state in which you live in order to establish the parental rights of the non-genetic parent. Do not rely on anyone other than a reproductive lawyer, adoption attorney, or family lawyer to answer these questions for you. MMM runs rampant in this area of the law and in fact, the law changes fairly quickly so what may have been true a few years ago, if told to you now, may well result in a run-in with MMM. Other blogs I have written have addressed the questions you need to ask or legal documents you need to have prepared when entering into a surrogacy arrangement in greater detail than I did in this post. If you are considering surrogacy, you may want to explore those posts for additional information.

There is a wealth of information that you need as you start on this path, topics we haven’t touched on are issues related to insurance and escrow or trust account management. These subjects are less frequently discussed (and extraordinarily important) so less often subject to MMM encounters. I plan on blogging about them and am working on an series of books to demystify third party assisted reproduction in general.

But whatever you do, don’t take what people (even your doctor) tells you at face value! The Masked Marauder of Misinformation is just as stealthy as the NOvary! I am so jaded that I sometimes feel like a client is describing an MMM encounter from a friend who does not want my client to have a baby and thus has filled his or her head with utter nonsense out of nothing other than jealousy (how sick and twisted am I?) Or, political issues within a reproductive practice are causing a client to draw assumptions about surrogacy — MMM that surrogacy is illegal because her clinic won’t do an embryo transfer to an uncompensated surrogate — that are just plain wrong!

Beware the MMM. There are so many options for becoming a parent through surrogacy that odds are you can find a way to do it. Don’t believe everything you hear! Got a question, get an answer, just make sure it’s not from the Masked Marauder of Misinformation!!

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The Stork Lawyer Economic Stimulus Plan of 2009 is Here!

April 16, 2009 | By: | Filed under: Current Affairs, Financing Fertility Treament or Adoption, Questions about the Office

As Tax Day comes and goes and so many people are struggling both with infertility and paying bills, and praying that tax refunds will help pay for treatment or adoption expenses, we’ve been asking, what can we do to help?

Well, we’ve decided to extend a little economic stimulus package of our own! The Stork Lawyer Economic Stimulus Plan of 2009 is designed to make all legal services for family building more affordable for everyone!

First, we’d like to remind you that we offer a free egg donation contract per fiscal quarter to qualifying individuals and families. To make this even more meaningful, we are changing the criteria for applicants to make it easier to qualify for a free contract. Although our website has not yet been updated, we urge anyone who would like to apply for a free egg donation contract due to their difficulty in paying the expenses associated with their egg donation cycle to submit an application. We will send them the criteria by email (until it is posted on our website), and we will consider all applications submitted regardless of whether they strictly meet our criteria.

Second, we are offering a 15% discount on our legal services for egg donation and gestational carrier arrangements to all new clients. Our normal fees have been slashed! For the next fiscal quarter and perhaps even longer, our new rates will reflect an across the board reduction of 15%.

Third, for clients who retain us during the second fiscal quarter of 2009, we are offering flat fee billing arrangements on all parentage orders, and on most of our adoption services. By establishing flat fee billing arrangements we hope to reduce people’s worry regarding how much their legal fees will be to adopt domestically and/or to establish their genetic relationship with their child conceived through third party assisted reproductive arrangements.

If you have any questions or require specific information for yourself or even your friends, please do not hesitate to contact me and I would be happy to speak with you about making your family building more affordable. You can reach me by email at Liz@StorkLawyer.com

Please check our website frequently as we will be providing specific details regarding:

The Stork Lawyer Economic Stimulus Plan of 2009!

Thank you,

Elizabeth Swire Falker, Esq.

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p.s. Nothing in this blog shall be deemed to create an attorney-client relationship and we may not be able to provide legal counsel and advice to all persons who contact the office in response to this blog post due to ethical restrictions imposed upon the office. However, please do not hesitate to contact us with questions or to see if we can assist you.

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Just who is The Stork Lawyer®?

March 19, 2007 | By: | Filed under: Questions about the Office

So who is the Stork Lawyer®? Well, just a normal infertile woman with a J.D. who was bored practicing commercial and employment litigation in New York City, accidentally wrote and published The Infertility Survival Handbook (Riverhead 2004), and then was asked to start a reproductive law practice by her friend and former law school buddy, Amy Demma, JD (Amy now has her own egg donation agency which has a link elsewhere on this page but for convenience sake you also can click here: Prospective Families).

One thing led to another and I wound up writing my second book, The Ultimate Insider’s Guide to Adoption (Warner Books 2006), and my law practice grew to include helping people adopt.

But basically, I consider myself an infertile chic with two beautiful children through the miracle of adoption (whom I breast fed, which is now another aspect of our practice, helping intended moms learn about induced lactation for breast feeding babies carried by surrogacy or who were adopted) who happens to be very lucky to have found her bliss helping to build families.

I am a member of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM), the American Bar Association (and a bunch of subcommittees on family law, reproductive technology and bioethics), the New York State Bar Association, and the Association of the Bar of the City of New York.  I have been practicing law since 1993 and am admitted to practice in the Appellate Division, First Department of the State of New York, and the Southern and Eastern Districts of New York.  My admission in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is pending and I hope to become admitted in the State of Texas (just to be as annoyingly ambitious as possible).  As you will learn on this page and our web page (Stork Lawyer Website) we also have attorneys on staff or affiliated with our office who are admitted in New Jersey, Connecticut and Massachusetts.  We also have relationships with attorneys elsewhere in the U.S.

But basically, I am just a woman on a mission to help people become parents.  While I may have a whacko reproductive system . . . I am one very blessed woman.  Indeed, my own infertility is what brings me to you and without it . . . I would not be the person I am today with the wonderful richness brought from parenting two amazing children and helping and watching others experience the same.  Like I said . . . BLESSED.

This is Me:
Elizabeth Swire Falker, Esq., The Stork Lawyer®



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