IFLG-Michigan-Court-Reverses-Ruling-Deeming-Lesbian-Mom-A-Surrogate-Rich-Vaughn

Michigan Court Reverses Ruling Deeming Lesbian Mom A ‘Surrogate’

The Michigan Court of Appeals recently ruled that lesbian mom LaNesha Matthews, who gave birth to twin daughters created by “reciprocal IVF” with her then partner Kyresha LeFever some 10 years ago, is a legal parent to the girls.

The April 2021 decision overturned an earlier Michigan court ruling that stripped Matthews of her parental rights, stating that she was a “surrogate” rather than the girls’ legal mother, and granting full custody to LeFever.

Matthews and LeFever began a committed romantic relationship in 2011 and decided to have a child together, as reported in Above the Law. At that time, prior to the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court legalizing same-sex marriage, they were unable to legally marry. They also knew that Michigan law would not allow both women’s names on their babies’ birth certificate, so they planned for Matthews to give birth in Ohio, where they believed both their names would be allowed.

Working through a fertility clinic, LeFever’s eggs were harvested and fertilized using donor sperm. The resulting viable embryos were successfully implanted in Matthews’ uterus. But the plan to give birth in Ohio fell through; the twins came two months early and were born in Michigan. Matthews, as the birthing mother, was listed on the babies’ birth certificates, but LeFever was not. However, the babies were given LeFever’s last name.

The couple raised the babies together until 2014, when they split, but continued to co-parent from separate homes until 2016. At that time, LeFever assumed primary parent duties due to Matthews’ health issues.

In 2018, LeFever filed for custody. Following a six-day trial, the judge ruled in LeFever’s favor, claiming that Matthews, under Michigan’s Surrogate Parenting Act, was a “surrogate” rather than the twins’ mother. The judge ruled that Matthews, as the surrogate, had only third-party standing in the case and had to show clear and convincing evidence that it was the twins’ best interest for her to have custody. He ordered Matthews’ name removed from the twins’ birth certificates and granted full custody to LeFever.

Michigan Appeals Court Rules ‘Natural Parent’ Does Not Mean Genetic Relationship

In reversing that decision, the Michigan appellate court ruled that the lower court erred in deeming Matthews a surrogate under Michigan law and in its contention that a “natural parent” must be genetically related to the child. Matthews’ case drew support from the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), which, along with local trial counsel Regina Jemison, represented her on appeal, as well as from the ACLU, ACLU of Michigan, Center for Genetics and Society, and Pro-Choice Alliance for Responsible Research.

As we have written before, Michigan surrogacy and parentage laws are sorely out-of-date; in fact, with passage of new legislation in New York, New Jersey and District of Columbia, Michigan and Louisiana are the only remaining states in the U.S. with an absolute ban on compensated surrogacy. Although Michiganders continue to participate in altruistic surrogacy arrangements in which the surrogate is uncompensated, the fact that surrogacy contracts are not legally enforceable and the lack of clarity in the law leads to too many quixotic and inappropriate outcomes.

Michigan Couple Forced to Adopt Biologically Related Babies Born by Surrogate

We followed another such Michigan case that also made international headlines. In January 2021, a Kent County, Michigan, court refused to recognize the parental rights of Tammy and Jordan Meyers, a married, heterosexual couple who had twins via altruistic surrogacy after Tammy’s cancer treatment rendered her unable to carry a pregnancy to term. Despite the fact that both parents are genetically related to the babies—Tammy’s eggs and Jordan’s sperm were used to create the embryos that became their twins—the court ruled that the surrogate and her husband are the twins’ legal parents.

In order to establish their parentage, the Meyers are being forced to adopt their own children—with the accompanying legal expense, home inspections, screenings and criminal background checks that come with any standard adoption procedure. This despite the fact that they are already parents to a healthy, happy 8-year-old daughter, conceived and born before Tammy was diagnosed with cancer.

As we always advise our clients, despite standardization efforts from the legal profession, the laws governing assisted reproduction such as egg and sperm donation, IVF, surrogacy and parentage vary widely from state to U.S. state and from country to country. More and more people use assisted reproduction to build families every year, while many courts have not evolved to accommodate non-traditional families. The divide between miraculous new technologies and rigid, outdated law often creates big gaps, like the ones Matthews and the Meyerses fell through in Michigan. That’s why it is essential that intended parents retain an attorney who is experienced in fertility law and familiar with the laws in the jurisdiction where the baby will be born and where the family will ultimately reside.

For more information about assisted reproduction and the laws in your state, contact our IFLG team of experienced assisted reproductive technology attorneys and paralegals.

 

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 moved to the United States in 2012 to attend Northeastern 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, received her paralegal certification from UCLA Extension, and obtained her second Master of Science degree in Legal Studies from Loyola Law School. Peiya relocated back to her hometown, Beijing, China in 2019 and works from IFLG’s Beijing office. 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.

Katie Deaquino
KATIE DEAQUINO
Senior Paralegal

Katie is a Senior Paralegal with IFLG and has dedicated over sixteen years to the areas of surrogacy and reproductive law. She received her Paralegal Certificate from Coastline Community College and has worked with some of the top law firms in the assisted reproduction community. Katie is also a commissioned Notary Public. With IFLG, Katie manages Surrogacy, Egg Donation, and Parental Establishment cases and provides support to other IFLG team members. Katie truly enjoys helping others build their families through assisted reproduction and is thankful she has had the rewarding experience of assisting IFLG clients. Katie often spends her free time with her Husband, four young children and her bulldog “Bella”.

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 which he received in 2013, 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. Luis has worked for IFLG in both Los Angeles as well as San Francisco, and is currently based in Dallas, Texas. In addition to spending time with husband Randy and dog Marty, Luis enjoys being outdoors and appreciating the arts.

Alexander Espinoza
ALEXANDER ESPINOZA
Legal Assistant

Alexander joined IFLG as a legal assistant in 2019, where he manages surrogacy, egg donation and parental establishment cases. Alex is bilingual in English and Spanish and has been in the legal field for 23 years. Alex is excited to join the IFLG team and pursuing his will to help others in the reproductive law process. In his spare time he loves spending time with his family and friends, being outdoors, road trips, loves music and dancing.

Toni Hughes
TONI BOONE
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 DEVEREAUX
Paralegal

Kim has over 30 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 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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
OFFICES
Los Angeles

5757 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 645

Los Angeles, CA 90036

Phone:  +1 323 331 9343

Email:  info@iflg.net

Website:  www.iflg.net

New York
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

501 Fifth Avenue, Suite 1900

New York, NY 10017

Phone:  +1 844 400 2016

Email:  info@iflg.net

Website:  www.iflg.net

Molly O'Brien
MOLLY O'BRIEN
Partner

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.

Phoebe Sadler
PHOEBE S. SADLER
Associate

Fertility law attorney Phoebe Sadler has a background in family law and has been practicing exclusively in the area of assisted reproduction technology (ART) law since 2018.

Rubina Aslanyan
RUBINA ASLANYAN
Paralegal

Rubina has an extensive background in the legal field as a paralegal in Family Law and has worked in surrogacy and assisted reproduction law since 2012. Her area of focus is in managing and assisting clients with surrogacy, egg donation, and parental establishment cases for many of IFLG’s domestic and international clients. During her spare time, Rubina enjoys spending time with her family and dog Bella, traveling and cooking.

Cara Stecker
CARA STECKER
Senior Paralegal

After receiving her paralegal certificate in 2005, Cara began working in assisted reproductive law. During the fifteen years Cara has worked in this field, she has gained a wide range of experience and knowledge that she uses to help better assist clients and those involved in the assisted reproductive journey. Cara’s primary roles involve managing parental establishment matters and coordination with IFLG’s Of Counsel attorney network, drafting contracts and parental establishment court documents and providing support to other team members. Cara finds great joy in being a small part of a team of caring people who help others achieve their dream of having a family. In her spare time, Cara enjoys spending time with her husband and three children, watching her children play the sports they love, and she enjoys, running, cycling and exploring the outdoors in the sun.

Stephanie Kimble
STEPHANIE KIMBLE
Paralegal

Stephanie received her BS in History and Political Thought from Concordia University Irvine in 2015 and her Paralegal Certificate from University of San Diego later that same year. She has been working as a Paralegal since 2016 in Family and Reproductive Law. She is excited to be part of International Fertility Law Group working on managing Surrogacy, Egg donation and Parental Establishment Cases.

Trish Pittman
TRISH PITTMAN
Assistant Financial Coordinator

With more than 20 years of experience in the field of accounting, Trish joined the IFLG team in 2019 as Assistant Financial Coordinator. Her client-facing focus at IFLG is to assist with all client trust accounting. Trish is the mother of two daughters and enjoys spending time teaching and learning new things from them. In her free time, she loves long walks in the park and reading suspense and mystery novels.

Elsa Jimenez
ELSA JIMENEZ
Legal Assistant

Elsa joined IFLG as a Legal Assistant in 2019, bringing more than 35 years of experience working in the legal profession (concentrating in tort and litigation matters). At IFLG she assists surrogates with their surrogacy and parental matters. The oldest of five siblings, born and raised in East Los Angeles to Mexican immigrant parents, Elsa loves “seeing the beauty of families forming” through assisted reproductive technology. She and her husband Carlos have four children and one grandson. Elsa enjoys jazz and ’80s music, being outdoors in nature, collecting teacups and tea pots, and spending time with her close-knit family.