The Texas custody battle over frozen embryos is all but over.
You may recall the case of Roman v. Roman which got national attention earlier this year. On February 4, 2004 after a bitter divorce trial, Harris County (Houston) Judge Lisa Millard ruled that the embryos that a couple had frozen two years earlier should be awarded to the Nigerian born ex-wife who wanted to have them implanted and brought to term. The ex-husband, a serious minded man, did not want to be forced to create children with a woman whom he did not love. The wife, Augusta Roman claimed that because of her age, the embryos where her last chance to bear children. She promised the ex-husband, Randy Roman that if he accepted the ruling, she would not ask for child support and would agree to let Randy terminate his parental obligations. Randy was aghast at the thought. He said that the child support was not the issue and that if any children were born he would meet his obligation to support them and help raise them. It is not that he didn’t ever want children, he just didn’t want children with THIS woman.
So Randy filed an appeal to the Texas First District Court of Appeals in Houston. That court overruled the trial court because at the time the couple froze the embryos, they had each signed a form contract that clearly stated that in the event of the divorce of the couple, the frozen embryos would be destroyed. Augusta’s claim that she didn’t pay attention to what she was signing did not find any favor with the judges.
Augusta then filed an appeal with the Texas Supreme Court and at the urging of her attorney, Becky Reitz promptly went on a publicity circuit seeking to garnish public favor for her case. The softly speaking woman and her piercing attorney made an odd pair on the television, but they interviewed with any media outlet that would have them. Meanwhile, Randy Roman, a private man by disposition, refused to make a public spectacle of the tragic end of his marriage and instead let his low key attorney, Greg Enos pick a few select media outlets so his side would not be unheard. Gary Sacks, a father’s right advocate, also voiced Randy’s side with the media.
In the end, the Texas Supreme Court upheld the appeal court by refusing to hear the case. It may be that the publicity Augusta and her attorney rutted for actually backfired, and the judges thought it was politically expedient to refuse the case rather than deal with the volatile issues of a “right to life” case (which was how the case was presented in the ex-wife’s brief).
Determine to see this through to the bitter end, Augusta and her attorney filed an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court. After all the media ballyhoo, the Supreme Court has finally ruled. On March 17, 2008, it denied Augusta Roman’s petition. In refusing to hear the case (which it is allowed to do), the U.S. Supreme Court has effectively affirmed the ruling of the Texas Supreme Court. The decision is final and there are no further appeals.
Technically, Augusta has until April 17, 2008 to file a Motion with the U.S. Supreme Cour to reconsider their decision. She may decide to do this, but the chances of the US Supreme Court suddenly changing its mind and deciding to hear the case are slim to none.
Therefore with no legal remedies left for Augusta Roman, Randy Roman has won this case once and for all. And what of the frozen embryos? Chances are they will linger in limbo for a while before the fertility clinic must finally do something with them. Their final fate is undecided except that they will never be implanted.
Although we may permit Randy the right to sigh with relief after this long and costly legal war, we must also offer our sympathy to Augusta who no doubt believed in her cause. Ultimately, as with most all cases that involve family law, there is no clear cut right and wrong. Practitioners in family law advocate for either side and hope that in the end justice is done- but sometimes, even though we fight with all our power to make sure both sides views are heard by the judges, privately even we can’t be sure of the best outcome. The only certainty in this field is that these cases always involve tragedy and sadness. We just have to hope that justice was done and both parties can begin to heal and move on to a better life.