Rich Vaughn, IFLG: France Recognizes Parental Rights of Intended Parents of Twins Born Via Surrogacy Abroad

France Recognizes Intended Parents After 19 Years of Litigation

After 19 years of court battles and legal ups and downs, the French Court of Final Appeal has recognized Sylvie and Dominique Mennesson as the legal parents of their twin daughters, born via surrogacy in California in 2000.

The court issued its decision recognizing the Mennessons’ parentage just one day after the French Parliament, over stiff right-wing opposition, voted in favor of a law recognizing the parentage of children born via surrogacy in another country. Surrogacy is illegal in France and punishable by one year in prison and a €15,000 fine. Conservative MPs were enraged by the vote and have vowed to call for a second vote.

Over nearly two decades, the Mennessons have become international icons in the movement for reproductive rights, even founding a non-profit organization, CLARA (Comité de soutien pour la Légalisation de la GPA [Gestation Pour Autrui] et l'Aide à la Reproduction Assistée), to advocate for the rights of children born via surrogacy. In 2000, Sylvie Mennesson, who was infertile, and husband Dominique Mennesson traveled to California, where the couple became parents of twin girls, conceived using Dominique’s sperm and a surrogate’s eggs. The state of California recognized Dominique as the twins’ genetic father and Sylvie as their “mother of intent” and issued birth certificates and passports listing the couple as the twins’ legal parents.

But the French consulate in Los Angeles, suspecting the twins were born via surrogacy, refused to register the birth certificates in the French civil registry—a stance contrary to the international legal principle of “comity,” in which one jurisdiction will honor legal rulings rendered by another jurisdiction. In this case, the French consulate refused to honor the California court order establishing a legal parent-child relationship because surrogacy is against French law.

We first wrote about the Mennesson case in 2014, when the European Court for Human Rights ruled that France and the other 46 ECHR member nations must recognize the parental rights of parents who are genetically related to their children born through surrogacy abroad, and grant citizenship to those children. That ECHR ruling was based on the Mennessons’ case and that of another family who had undergone surrogacy in the United States. As we wrote then:

The ECHR, which acts under authority of the European Convention on Human Rights enacted by the Council of Europe in 1950, ruled that while France has the right to ban surrogate parenthood within its boundaries, it does not have the right to deny legal status to the parent-child relationships of children and their parents just because a surrogate carried and delivered the children.

The 2014 ECHR ruling mandated that French children born abroad via surrogacy would receive passports and French identity cards and would be able to request certificates of French nationality. But the ruling left it to the discretion of individual countries to determine how to establish the parental rights of an intended parent who is not genetically related to a child born via foreign surrogacy.

In response to the ECHR ruling, in July 2017 the French supreme court (called Cour de cassation) established a three-part process for establishing the parentage of non-biological intended parents. As we reported at the time:

The convoluted process the French court ruling has imposed upon intended parents, although it clarifies French parentage law, is a setback in the wake of several European Court of Human Rights rulings that have tended to treat recognition of parental authority and citizenship for children born abroad via surrogacy as basic human rights….

Although the French supreme court accepted the ECHR’s directive to recognize the citizenship of surrogate children born abroad, when it came to registering a non-biologically related intended mother as legal mother, it fell back on French law. In fact, under French law, the legal mother is defined as the woman who physically gives birth—the surrogate—regardless of the baby’s genetics. This decision did not violate the rights of the child to a legal parent, the court held, because, under French law, an intended mother is able to establish parentage by adopting her child born via surrogacy. The added hurdles and expense of the adoption process served the purpose of reinforcing France’s policy of discouraging surrogacy.

The Mennesson’s legal odyssey ground on, and the family went back to court, seeking a re-examination of the denial of Sylvie’s parentage in view of recent changes in French law. As we reported earlier, after living in France for 16 years, the twins, now 18 years old, were finally granted French citizenship in 2017. 

The Mennesson’s legal victory and the French legislature’s vote to recognize the parentage of children born via surrogacy abroad are among several exciting signs that public opinion and official policy are slowly moving toward acceptance of surrogacy and other forms of assisted reproduction. As we reported recently, in July President Emmanuel Macron’s administration proposed a new bioethics law that would legalize in vitro fertilization, or IVF, for single women and lesbians.

But as has historically been true of assisted reproductive technology, despite these successes, many challenges, particularly from the country’s right wing, remain. Conservative lawmakers and activists, already outraged by the country’s 2015 legalization of same-sex marriage and the recently proposed bioethics legislation, have promised to bring the new parentage law up for a second vote. But the happy ending to the Mennessons’ long and valiant battle to protect their children and all children born by surrogacy reassures us that, eventually, reproductive freedom and the rights of intended parents and their children will prevail.

After 19 years of court battles and legal ups and downs, the French Court of Final Appeal has recognized Sylvie and Dominique Mennesson as the legal parents of their twin daughters, born via surrogacy in California in 2000.

The court issued its decision recognizing the Mennessons’ parentage just one day after the French Parliament, over stiff right-wing opposition, voted in favor of a law recognizing the parentage of children born via surrogacy in another country. Surrogacy is illegal in France and punishable by one year in prison and a €15,000 fine.

 

Rich Vaughn
Richard Vaughn
rich@iflg.net

Attorney Rich Vaughn is founder and principal of International Fertility Law Group, one of the world’s largest and best-known law firms focused exclusively on assisted reproductive technology, or ART, including in vitro fertilization (IVF), surrogacy, sperm donation or egg donation. Rich is co-author of the book “Developing A Successful Assisted Reproduction Technology Law Practice,” American Bar Association Publishing, 2017.

Peiya Wang
PEIYA WANG(王培娅)
Paralegal (律师助理)

Peiya Wang joined IFLG as a paralegal in 2015, where she manages surrogacy, egg donation and parental establishment cases and provides translation services for many of IFLG’s international clients. Peiya received her bachelor’s degree from Beijing Technologies and Business University, where she majored in Marketing. She moved to the United States in 2012 to attend Northeast University in Boston, Massachusetts, receiving a Master of Science degree in Global Studies and International Affairs in 2014. Peiya moved to Los Angeles in 2015 and received her paralegal certification from UCLA Extension. When away from the office, Peiya is a dragon boat paddler and a ballroom dancer, where she favors Rumbas and Cha-chas. She is fluent in Mandarin and English.

Luis Sosa
LUIS SOSA
Paralegal

Luis R. Sosa joined IFLG as a paralegal in 2016, where he enjoys pursuing his passion for family and reproductive law. While working toward his bachelor’s degree at Florida International University, Luis worked as a paralegal and legal assistant for family law litigation firms in Miami and Washington, D.C. As a paralegal and case manager for IFLG, Luis, who is bilingual in English and Spanish, manages surrogacy, egg donation and other reproductive law cases. In addition to spending time with husband Randy and dog Marty, Luis enjoys being outdoors and appreciating the arts.

Toni Hughes
TONI HUGES
Paralegal

After receiving her B.S. in Business Management, Toni joined IFLG to pursue her dream of working in the legal field. As a Paralegal with over 10 years of experience in the assisted reproduction technology field, Toni is our Managing Paralegal, responsible for training and managing our paralegal staff. From drafting legal documents to assisting our clients with post-birth matters, Toni embraces the challenge of learning something new in this field each day. Besides spending time with her son, Jordan, Toni enjoys exploring new things, cooking, spending time with family and friends, and serving as a Youth Advisor for “Next Generation.”

Miesha Cowart
MIESHA COWART
Financial Coordinator

Miesha Cowart joined IFLG as a financial specialist in 2014 following a successful career in development and business finance. Miesha previously worked for 10 years in the construction industry as a controller and for 13 years as Development Coordinator for the non-profit U.S. Fund for UNICEF. In her free time, Miesha works with “Next Generation” at her church. “They are my heartbeats!” she says of the youth in her community.

Kim
KIM DEVEREAUX
Paralegal

Kim has over 25 years of experience in the legal field and has worked exclusively in surrogacy and assisted reproduction law since 1999. Kim is a senior case manager of surrogacy and egg donation cases, and is also responsible for managing parental establishment cases and interacting with IFLG’s Of Counsel attorneys across the country. With three children of her own, Kim understands the importance of family and finds working in this area of law a rewarding experience.

Rich Vaughn
RICHARD B. VAUGHN
Founder

Attorney Rich Vaughn combined his personal passion as a father of twin boys born via assisted reproductive technology (ART) with more than 20 years of experience in business and technology law to build International Fertility Law Group. Today IFLG is one of the most successful and best-known law firms in the world focused exclusively on fertility law, helping thousands of intended parents through empathetic listening, compassionate guidance, and unmatched legal expertise. As an advocate for reproductive freedom, Rich also contributes his knowledge and time to improving the understanding and practice of ART law, most recently as a founder of and speaker at the first Cambridge University International Surrogacy Symposium held in June 2019, as immediate past chair of the American Bar Association ART Committee, and as a popular presenter to law schools, faculty and advocacy organizations all over the world.

Elizabeth Tamayo
ELIZABETH TAMAYO
Paralegal

Elizabeth received her Bachelors of Science degree in Criminal Justice from California State University of Los Angeles. Shortly after graduating, she continued her education at the University of California, Los Angeles where she obtained her Paralegal certificate. Elizabeth is fluent in Spanish and has been in the legal field since 2009. She is excited to be a part of the IFLG Team helping families realize their dreams.

Sunny Chien
SUNNY CHIEN
Paralegal

Sunny joined IFLG as a paralegal in 2017, where she manages surrogacy, egg donation and parental establishment cases for many of IFLG’s international clients. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Philosophy from California State University of Los Angeles, where she graduated cum laude. Sunny is bilingual in English and Mandarin and has extensive experience as a legal assistant and paralegal at Los Angeles-area law firms. She is excited to be part of the IFLG team. In her spare time, Sunny enjoys spending time with her family and their dog, going to the beach, cooking, and being outdoors.

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MOLLY O'BRIEN
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Fertility law attorney Molly O’Brien began working in the field of assisted reproduction technology (ART) in 2005, at an egg donation agency and a surrogacy agency where she became familiar with all aspects of in-vitro fertilization, egg donation and the financial aspects of surrogacy. Since becoming an attorney in 2011, Molly has drafted and negotiated surrogacy, egg donation, sperm donation embryo donation agreements for hundreds of her clients all over the world.