Bringing a new child into the world is supposed to be a time of joy and hopefulness. For many parents, the journey to that point is a long and difficult one if it involves infertility, illness, or other problems that stand in the way of a typical pregnancy. But even when individuals overcome physical, medical, or practical obstacles to become new parents, they still may face burdensome and non-sensical legal hurdles, especially here in Michigan.
Everyone on the Same Page – Except for the State of Michigan
Such was the case with Jordan and Tammy Meyers, a Grand Rapids couple who used a surrogate to give birth to twins in January. As reported recently in the New York Times, Michigan law forced them to go through the process of adopting their own children even though they were conceived using the sperm and eggs from the couple, making them the kids’ biological parents.
Instead of taking their children home and starting their new life together, they must go through a court proceeding and submit themselves to “home visits from a social worker, personal questions about their upbringing and their approach to parenting, and criminal background checks.” They must get reference letters testifying to their character and needed “temporary permission” from the surrogate and her husband to see their own kids.
This was not a case where the surrogate got cold feet or was the children’s biological mother. Everyone involved is on the same page; a fertility doctor said in an affidavit that the babies are the couple’s biological children. Both the surrogate and her husband have agreed that the Myerses are the twins’ parents.
Surrogacy Is a Felony in Michigan
But Michigan has a law that is unique in its restrictiveness and its lack of recognition of surrogacy’s legitimacy. In 1988, the state passed the Surrogate Parenting Act in response to the famous “Baby M” case. In that saga, a paid surrogate who conceived a child using her own eggs reneged on her agreement and decided to keep the child, leading to a lengthy and contentious legal battle with the biological father.
To avoid such confusion and conflict, the Surrogate Parenting Act declared that any agreements involving surrogacy were null, void, and unenforceable. This means that a surrogate in Michigan (and their spouse, if any) is deemed the child’s legal parent and that biological parents who have a child through surrogacy must go to a judge to be declared the legal parents or go through the traditional adoption process.
For the Meyerses, going to a judge to be declared the twins’ parents was a futile effort, as the judge in their case essentially said that their hands were tied because ruling in their favor would essentially mean enforcing a contract that is unenforceable under Michigan law.
“While this Court has genuine concerns about the present-day wisdom of the 1988 Surrogate Parenting Act, such concerns are better left to the legislative/political arena,” the judge wrote when denying the Meyerses’ request for parental rights.
Not only won’t the state recognize surrogacy agreements, but the act of surrogacy is a serious criminal offense. In Michigan, paying a woman to act as a surrogate is a felony punishable by up to five years behind bars and a $50,000 fine.
Michigan’s law stands in sharp contrast to other states’ surrogacy laws that recognize the value of well-defined surrogacy arrangements. For example, New York in 2020 repealed a law that compensates women who act as surrogates, while Louisiana prohibits paying surrogates but recognizes agreements or contracts in which a woman has volunteered to be a surrogate (as was the case for the Meyerses) as valid and enforceable.
Call Kreis Enderle’s Family Law Attorneys to Discuss Your Adoption Questions and Concerns
Given the travails of the Meyerses, anyone considering surrogacy as an option in Michigan should consult an experienced adoption and family law attorney before taking any steps or entering into any agreement to do so.