For some couples or single individuals, creating a family isn’t easy. Those who experience reproductive trouble or are simply uninterested in the traditional route of childbearing often turn to alternatives such as donation, surrogacy, or adoption, all involving complex laws best handled alongside an attorney.
Such topics are among the vast range of family law matters attorney Lorena Reynolds deals with while managing the Reynolds Law Firm in Corvallis. Reynolds received her degree from UCLA School of Law in 1997 and has been in private practice in Corvallis for 12 years.
In pursuing the topic of surrogacy, our Advocate reporters had significant trouble getting anyone with experience to speak up. To Reynolds, this comes as no surprise, given the high stakes for those involved, who likely don’t want to do anything to jeopardize the outcome of having a child, especially by having an outsider getting close to their contract. According to Reynolds, the tension around the subject may be because “the legality of surrogacy contracts isn’t really clear.”
Drafting surrogacy contracts can be an expensive and intensive process, involving heavy negotiation. According to Reynolds, parties “need to outline and have conversations in much the same way as a premarital agreement.” Couples and individuals must mull over what could go wrong, and make compromises regarding each person’s expectations, to establish the best possible outcome for all involved.
Some parties are more casual in their approach to surrogacy. These cases typically involve a family member or friend who has graciously opted to carry the child. “The more arm’s-length the transaction is, the more formal it tends to be,” said Reynolds. In these cases, Reynolds often sees people with “such optimism, they don’t anticipate how complex things can get.” Reynolds warns that individuals unaware of what could go wrong might run into complex legal issues—or worse, wind up in custody court.
Custody can become an issue especially in “traditional” surrogacy arrangements, where the sperm comes from a male partner in the adoptive household and the eggs from the surrogate, as opposed to “gestational carrier” cases, where embryos consisting of some combination of the intended parents’ and donors’ sperm and eggs is transferred to the carrier or surrogate. If a surrogate in a traditional arrangement has a change of heart or isn’t prepared for the emotional intensity of bearing a child, these “heartbreaking, hard cases,” as Reynolds describes them, end with “babies born into traditional custody battles that don’t look so traditional [in court].”
Reynolds references the trend toward surrogate mothers who have families of their own or prior experience with pregnancy, as opposed to women without birthing experience, who have less appreciation for the emotional complexity involved. Luckily, adoptive parents, surrogates, and birth families have time to weigh and work through all the issues that may arise. Presently, the wait period for uncontested adoption averages around six months.
Those pursuing adoption or surrogacy should prepare thoroughly and thoughtfully. They should also feel no shame in going the nontraditional route. “People do what they need to do to have babies,” said Reynolds. “You can’t judge somebody for doing it in an informal way.”
By Stevie Beisswanger