The first baby who started out as a frozen embryo was born back in 1984. Since then, the technology that allows these embryos to be implanted via in vitro fertilization (IVF) has advanced considerably. It has become more common for couples to freeze embryos in order to have children they wouldn't otherwise be able to have.

Today, approximately one million embryos are being stored throughout the U.S. in liquid nitrogen. It's not known how long an embryo can be stored and still be viable. A baby was born last year who started life as a frozen embryo 15 years prior.

When Former Couples Battle Over the Fate of Their Frozen Embryos

What happens if the couple splits up while the embryos are still frozen? Who decides what happens to them? Can one partner use the frozen embryos to have children if the other one objects? Those are the kinds of questions being addressed in courts throughout the country.

Perhaps the most famous frozen embryo dispute involves "Modern Family" actress Sofia Vergara and her former boyfriend, Nick Loeb. When the couple was together, they froze two embryos. However, when the couple split up, Loeb sued Vergara for custody of the embryos, even naming them. Vergara wants the embryos to remain frozen. The two have been entangled in multiple court battles over the fate of the embryos.

In Colorado, the state Supreme Court is considering a case involving a divorced couple fighting over six frozen embryos left over from IVF they used to have children while they were married. The woman wants to preserve the embryos to have more children. Her ex-husband objects. He told a local Denver newspaper, "It just seems like a guy should be able to decide whether he wants more children or not and with whom."

The Legal and Ethical Questions Raised in Frozen Embryo Disputes

Of course, if a woman gets pregnant in the traditional manner, the man involved doesn't have a say in the matter. However, the ability to freeze embryos has opened up a whole new debate over what it means to be a parent. These court battles over frozen embryos raise all sorts of ethical questions about whether they are human beings, who can determine what happens to them, and whether a mother or father has the right to object to a baby who would biologically be theirs being brought to term.

If you and your spouse are considering using this method to have a child, you're likely not planning on divorce. However, it's nonetheless essential to consider what would become of those embryos if that happens. An experienced family law attorney can provide important legal guidance.