Fertility Alimony?

by Christopher White, Ramsey Institute Project Director on September 13, 2013

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In a recent New York Times editorial, Sarah Richards raised some provocative questions as to whether fertility treatment should be covered in divorce settlements. In her op-ed “Alimony for Eggs,” Richards profiles a New Jersey couple where the wife’s lawyer is arguing that the husband should pay $20,000 towards the wife’s egg freezing and storage costs. The argument, according to the attorney, is that fertility treatment was a part of the marital lifestyle and therefore, “should be maintained as much as possible post-divorce.”

Richards concludes the article noting that this could lead to a slippery slope. After all, the childbearing could have been postponed because the wife wanted to pursue her career before motherhood—or a host of other reasons that make these matters so complicated. But in her closing paragraph, Richards recommends that “women should fight for their reproductive futures by saying: ‘My fertility is worth something. I’m sorry this didn’t work out. I wish you the best. May we both have the opportunity to make our dreams come true.'”

Indeed, women’s fertility is worth something. It’s worth a lot, actually. But too often this type of thinking happens after it’s too late or in retrospect—when women haven’t considered the realities of their biological clocks, when couples haven’t considered the potential health risks of egg retrieval and the future operations necessary to later conceive of a child, and when efforts to freeze and store one’s eggs have taken on such high emotional and financial costs that it takes away the joy that should result from being a parent.

Much of this type of thinking—and behavior—comes from a misguided view that seems to dominate our current thinking on these matters. The so-called “right to a child” has created a mentality in which couples (and individuals) will go to great extremes in pursuit of a child of their own. Meanwhile, our courts and legislators are left to make sense of what all of this means. This is yet another front of the ever growing and increasingly complicated world of assisted reproduction. Unfortunately, it’s only going to get worse.

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