How to Choose a Surrogacy Agency

There are many advantages to using a surrogacy agency when you choose surrogacy to have a child.  They will work to match you up with a surrogate that is perfect for you and they can offer a great support system for both you and your Surrogate.  But how do you choose the surrogacy agency that is right for you?  There are many questions that you can consider when trying to choose a surrogacy agency to work with:

  • How long have they been in business?  There is nothing wrong with using an agency that has only been open for a few months if you have done your research and you feel like they are the right agency for you.  However, you may want to work with an agency that has been established in the field.  They will have more experience and a longer record for you to examine.
  • How many clients have they assisted?  Again, you may want to work with an agency that has a proven track record.  While it is true that every agency has to start somewhere, are you ready to be the one that they start with?  You will want to look at their history and see how many people they have helped to become parents so you can decide if you want to be one of those people.
  • What is their screening process?  Do they screen their surrogates both physically and psychologically?  You certainly want to work with an agency that does both physical and psychological screenings of their potential surrogates.  You want to work with a surrogate who is both physically fit and psychologically prepared to go through the process of carrying another woman’s child. Counseling is a part of the entire process, but you want to make sure that an initial screening does take place before you are matched up with a surrogate.
  • Have they ever been sued by clients or surrogates?  This is something that you want to consider as it gets to the heart of their reputation.  If they have been sued, what were the circumstances?  What was the result?  This is a part of looking into the history of the agency and whatever you find out in answering this question may play a major role in your decision of whether or not to work with that agency.
  • How much does it cost?  Obviously, if you have chosen surrogacy you already know that you are going to be making a significant financial investment.  If you are choosing an agency, part of that investment will go to pay the agency’s fees.  The agency will give you an estimate (you may end up paying more or less than that estimate), and then you will want to find out what services are provided for the fees that you are paying.  If you feel like you are getting the services you want for the amount of money that they are asking, then you may consider the agency a good choice for you.    
  • How long does it usually take to match a family up with a surrogate?  There will not be any guarantees here.  They may be able to match you up with someone fairly quickly or it may take some time.  The agency will be able to look at your family and tell you how long it typically takes to match up a family such as yours, but patience is important as you will want to find the best match for you and your family.
  • How is their staff and customer service?  As you are researching different agencies, what is your experience with the staff?  Are they generally friendly?  Do they seem supportive?  You want to work with an agency that is supportive and where the people are pleasant to be around.   The process of surrogacy can be long and sometimes stressful and you will want to work with an agency where the people can help to ease some of that stress.

Choosing a surrogacy agency to work with takes time and research.  Ultimately, you want to choose an agency that you are comfortable with.  You want to work with an agency that will do what is best for you and your family.  Do your homework and ask the right questions and you will be working with the surrogacy agency that is best for you. 

If you have questions about choosing a surrogacy agency in California, please call 310-598-6428 or email  Rose works with many surrogacy agencies in California and abroad and is available to help you choose the best agency for your family.

Israeli Cabinet Backs Bill Allowing Surrogacy for Same Sex Couples

Elad and his partner live in Israel with their one-month old daughter.  Both men served in the military and are as active as any other member of their community.  Their daughter was conceived using a surrogate in India.  Why?  Because same-sex couples and unmarried people are not allowed to use surrogacy in Israel.  However, a law which received the approval of the Israeli cabinet on Sunday, June 1 is aimed at changing this policy.  This new law extends the ability to use a surrogate in Israel to all couples, not just heterosexual couples.

The bill had been going through months of debate in the cabinet, but tensions on the bill were eased and the cabinet was finally able to vote.  While the bill does extend the rights to use surrogacy to singles and same-sex couples, it also imposes a few restrictions on both Surrogates and Intended Parents.  Surrogates are limited to three surrogate pregnancies and they can be no older than 38 (actually raising the maximum age).  Intended Parents must be no older than 54 and are only allowed to conceive two children through surrogacy.  Currently many LGBT couples have to go abroad (like Elad and his partner) in order to use a surrogate.  Most go to India or Thailand. The ability to use a surrogate in Israel will mean they no longer have to deal with all of the red tape of immigration and they will be able to bring a new member into their family.

Those who oppose the law argue that it merely “pays lip service” to the LGBT community in Israel.  Irit Rosenblum, founder of the “New Family” NGO in Israel states that the law will lead to couples dealing with committees and much more red tape in order to conceive a child.  He believes that it will just lead to fewer, not more, surrogacy arrangements.  Even so, members of the LGBT community are hopeful that the law will pass the Knesset, where it must pass three readings.   Supporters of the bill in Israel are optimistic, with Israeli Health Minister Yael German stating, “It feels like the ova are thawed and now we can create the baby and deliver it in the Knesset (Israeli Parliament).”  Elad and his partner are looking forward to the opportunity to add another child to their family and to be able to do that in Israel.

How much does surrogacy cost?

When making the choice to pursue surrogacy to have a child, you are making a major life commitment.  Of course, you are making a commitment to a child and a commitment to your family.  And surrogacy involves a major time commitment—you will have medical appointments, legal appointments, and many other appointments that you will have to be part of.  You also have to consider the fact that surrogacy involves a serious financial commitment.  It is well known that surrogacy is not cheap, but what you may not know is where all that money is going.  There are many costs associated with surrogacy, and listed below are some of the most common.

  • Surrogate Fees – Generally speaking, this is a fee that is agreed upon between the intended Parent(s) and the Surrogate.  Usually, it is broken down into monthly payments that last through the duration of the pregnancy.  This fee is essentially paid to the Surrogate to compensate her for the pain and suffering involved with being pregnant and reasonable consideration for carrying a child. While it is money that the surrogate may use for regular living expenses such as food and shelter, you have to remember that those expenses are necessary for her to care for your unborn child.  In addition to the base fee paid to the surrogate, you will also need to provide a life insurance policy for the surrogate for the duration of the pregnancy (and for a few weeks after the child is born) in case she suffers a fatal complication or accident during the pregnancy or in childbirth.  Furthermore, you will generally provide an allowance for maternity clothes.  There will be other fees that will come up through the pregnancy (such as fees for transportation, certain medical expenses, and the event of multiple births).  The majority of the money that you spend on this procedure will be in this area, so it helps to have an idea of what the money is being spent on.
  • Surrogacy Agency Fees – While it is not required to use a surrogacy agency it is highly recommended.  Agencies screen all of their potential surrogates very carefully and work to match you up with someone who will be compatible with you, your values, and your family.  This involves a lot of medical and psychological screening of potential surrogates, and the agency will charge a fee for these services.  While working with a surrogacy agency is one of the biggest financial commitments you will make in this process, it is also one of the best investments you can make as they will work to match you up with the best possible person for you.  If you would like a referral to a trusted surrogacy agency in California, please call our office at 310-598-6428 or email
  • Legal Fees – There will be a lot of legal paperwork that will come with surrogacy, and it is important to work with a surrogacy attorney who specializes in the field.  The attorney will charge a fee for drafting the surrogacy agreement and to set up the funds for the process in a trust.  The attorney will also make sure that the funds are allocated to the correct person or organization when the time comes (making sure fees are paid to the surrogate, surrogacy agency, medical fees, etc.).  You will also need to make sure any paperwork that needs to be done prior to the birth of your child is taken care of (such as paperwork and proceedings to establish parentage).  The Intended Parents are generally expected to provide funds for the surrogate’s legal fees in addition to their own. 
  • Medical/Psychological Fees – Psychological evaluations are essential for both the Intended Parents and for the Surrogate to ensure that everyone involved is ready to go through the surrogacy process.  The Intended Parents and the Surrogate will also have several medical expenses to pay during this process.  Of course, you will have to pay for the actual childbirth, but you will also have to pay for the embryo transfer procedure, monitoring, ObGYN visits, ongoing support groups and any health complications that may arise during pregnancy.  Fees will also include any fees paid to the clinic as well as any medications needed by the surrogate.  It is also important to know that the embryo transfer may not take on the first attempt and that the process may need to be repeated several times before a successful pregnancy is achieved.  While many fertility clinics tout their success rates for implantation on the first try, you should be prepared to go through and pay for this process more than once.

There are many other fees that will come up as you go through the surrogacy process.  For example, you may have several embryos that are not implanted in a surrogate and you may choose to cryopreseve them, for which you will have to pay a storage fee.  It is also important to understand that many of these fees are variable and may change in the case of multiple births (twins, triplets, etc.).  There are also fees involved if the doctor decides that a cesarean section is necessary for the surrogate to give birth.  All of the fees and specifics should be discussed in detail with your attorney and carefully outlined in your surrogacy contract, but it is useful to have an idea of what your money will be used for before you even begin the surrogacy process.

If you have questions about the costs of surrogacy or the surrogacy process in California, please call 310-598-6428 or email


Ten words that describe infertility

This post was written by Steve Wiens and the original post can be found on

Here are ten words I would use to describe how infertility feels:

1. Lonely. We saw couple after couple get pregnant before us, our best friends included. When they told us, we high-fived them, then we went home, and hardly knew what to say to each other. We felt lost, sad, and even lonelier than before. We were excited for them; we were just very sad for us.

It’s okay to go home and cry your eyes out when your friends get pregnant.

2. Exposed. Everybody wants to give you advice, and some people say incredibly stupid things. My favorite: “You just need to stop trying so hard!” Some people want to know every excruciating detail of what you’re doing to get pregnant. Suddenly, your most private details are the subject of casual conversation. Once people know you’re trying, people want to know how it’s going, if you’ve done artificial insemination, if you’d consider IVF, and how it felt in that small white room with the gross leather chair & the bad magazines.

It’s okay to avoid the question, smile, and change the subject. Keep as many things private as you can (except to a few trusted friends).

3. On Hold. We were always checking the calendar, wondering if we should plan that vacation, or that work trip, because what if we’re pregnant? Then we stopped doing that, because we would have never lived if we would have scheduled everything around a “what if.”

It’s okay to miss a month or two; you have to live your life. This is hard, but over the long haul, it will create more stress if you feel so trapped that you can’t plan anything. We even found that it’s good to take a month off now and then.

4. Invaded. For women, there are so many things entering your body (probes, needles, drugs) and so many people measuring your progress. Even sex, at the mercy of a calendar or a temperature reading, can feel invasive. The loss of control can almost merge into a loss of self.  But, it feels like once you’ve started down this road, there’s no stopping until you get pregnant.

It’s okay to say what you need, and it’s okay to shore up your boundaries in whatever ways you can.

5. Awkward. During one of the first visits where I was given the small cup and ceremoniously ushered into the small room, I actually ran into some people from my church afterwards. Of course they had their baby with them. I had a small cup that contained very personal contents with me. They asked, “What are you doing here?” I mean, what do you say?

It’s okay to laugh at yourself sometimes. And when someone catches you with your cup in your hand, that’s all you can do.

6. Angry. Unfair is the password that gets you into the infertility club. Mary tells a story of a friend asking her if she was angry with God. “No!” she blurted. “I’m angry at pregnant women!” She knew this was irrational, but she also knew that it was good for her soul to be honest in safe places. You actually may be angry with God, and you may need to find some safe places to be honest about that.

It’s okay to express the darkness, even the stuff you’re terribly embarrassed about, because it’s good for your soul. But in the right places, with people who can handle it.

7. Stressed. Even though it seems like a stressed out couple is less likely to get pregnant, The American Society for Reproductive Medicine finds that there is no proof stress causes infertility. Besides, trying hard to “not be so stressed about it” never worked for us. It also didn’t help to “just stop trying.” Everybody has a friend who was infertile for 73 years, and the day they stopped trying, they got pregnant. That never happened with us.

It’s okay to be stressed. Don’t stress about your stress. Trying hard not to be stressed is silly.

8. Despair. The cycle of hope and despair with infertility can take you out. I remember getting so excited when Mary was 2 days late, and just knowing that this time, it’s going to happen! Then, a few days or hours later, when she told me she got “it,” I would plunge into despair. The alternative is to temper your hope so that your despair doesn’t get so low. After about a hundred months of experiencing this cycle, we found that the best route is to keep hoping, and if it doesn’t happen, keep crying. It’s too hard to pretend that you’re not excited and that you’re not depressed. Be excited. Be depressed.

It’s okay to hope, and it’s okay to cry. Keep hoping and keep crying.

9. Loss. This was not how it was supposed to be. This was not what you dreamed it would be. And you don’t know how it will end.

It’s okay if you don’t know how to wrap your mind around your emotions. Be gentle with yourself for not totally having control of how you feel from moment to moment.

10. Ambivalence. Every time you have to go through another kind of treatment, you ask yourself: “Is it worth it? Do I really want it that bad?” And then in the very next breath, you are taken out by the sheer magnitude of how much you want a baby.

It’s okay to want and not want. That’s normal. 

If you’re struggling with infertility, it can be such a dark time. You have to be out loud with each other about what you need, and every journey will be different. You have to give yourselves permission to do this journey in whatever way makes the most sense for you.

Perez Hilton is a Daddy!

Celebrity blogger Perez Hilton announced on his website that he is the proud father of a new baby boy.  Hilton, who is openly gay, posted a photo of himself and his son on his site and expressed his excitement about fatherhood. He stated on the site, “I am so humbled to welcome this little man into my life. And I am honored and ready for the challenge of guiding him through his.” 

In a 2009 interview Hilton told the Los Angeles Times that he wanted to be a father before her turned 35 and that he had “investigated surrogates.”  However, at this point he has not disclosed whether the child was adopted or carried by a surrogate.    All he will say right now is that he is “blessed” to have his son in his life.  Many of his celebrity friends took to Twitter to congratulate him, with sentiments such as “welcome to the club!” and “let us know if you need any baby tips!”

In lieu of sending gifts, Hilton has asked that his fans make donations to VH1s Save the Music Foundation and the Gay, Lesbian, & Straight Education Network.

If you are interested in using a surrogate or finding a good surrogacy agency or surrogacy lawyer in Los Angeles or the rest of California, please call 310-598-6428 or email

Co-Parenting in the New York Times

Dawn Pieke and Fabian Blue both wanted to be parents.  In 2011, neither of them knew that the other existed.  Dawn lived in Omaha, Nebraska and Fabian lived in Melbourne, Australia.  They first met through a Facebook page for the site  They talked through Facebook and Skype and forged a connection.  Eventually, Fabian decided to move from Melbourne to Omaha so that he and Dawn could have a child together.  The catch?  They were not looking for a romantic relationship with one another, but looking for someone to share a child with.

Dawn and Fabian are among many couples who are using the internet as a way of finding people who, like them, want to be parents but are not looking for a romantic relationship.  The New York Times reported last week that more and more people are looking to the internet to find someone with whom to share a child.  Sites such as,,, and are becoming more popular as people seek a person who is looking for the opportunity to have a child without starting a romantic relationship. 

The laws around co-parenting agreements vary from state to state, so it is important to be aware of the laws as well as any court cases that may affect such agreements.  The Family Formation Law Center offers services to co-parents including drafting parenting agreements, developing parenting plans, mediating issues that arise during disagreements and advising regarding egg and sperm donation as it pertains to co-parenting.  If you have questions or would like to schedule a consultation, please contact or 310-598-6428.

For the full text of the article, visit

Debunking Myths About Sperm and Egg Donation

The popular media tends to exploit the myths around sperm and egg donation and perpetuate false beliefs about what the process entails. While they may have some of the facts correct, there are also a lot of misconceptions existing as well.  We took a look at some of the more common misconceptions and the realities behind them.

MYTH #1: Anyone can be a sperm donor and the process is easy.

FACT: Anyone who meets the rigid qualifications can be a sperm donor, and it is not an easy process.  According to the Fertility Pro Registry website ( less than 5% of men who attempt to become sperm donors are actually accepted.  While every facility has their own set of qualifications, applicants are screened for STDs, genetic abnormalities and other diseases.  Their physical and psychological backgrounds are checked and they must be able to provide a family health history going back three generations.  They must also be willing to commit to the program for up to 6 months as the screening process alone may take three months.

MYTH #2: Sperm banks are unregulated and can do whatever they want to make money.

FACT: Sperm banks are regulated by the FDA and according to the Fairfax Cryobank, various other state governments.  In California, the Department of Health Services may perform unannounced inspections and if a bank fails the inspection, their license may be revoked.  Furthermore, many banks are accredited by the American Association of Tissue Banks (AATB) and all follow the guidelines of the American Society of Reproductive Medicine (ASRM).

MYTH#3:  Donors (sperm or egg) may try to interfere or lay claim to my child.

FACT: All donors go into donation situations knowing that their purpose is to help someone who would not otherwise be able to conceive a child on their own.  Donors are fertile men and women who are helping those who, for whatever reason, are dealing with infertility.  If they wanted to have a child, they would typically be able to on their own.  However, it is important to note that anonymous donors usually receive very little information on the intended parents, if any.  In the case of a known (and anonymous donor) this is an issue that should be clearly addressed in the donor contract to ensure that the future interests of the parnets and the child are secured.

Myth: Donors are only in it for the money.

FACT: While there are donors who are interested in the financial compensation, most donors are actually donating because they want to help other start a family.  Sperm donors are actually compensated very little (according to the Fertility Pro Registry, anywhere from $1-$55 per specimen) and while egg donors do receive more financial compensation, they also have to go through a more rigorous process to donate (taking hormonal medications, working with various medical professionals and an attorney).  Further, according to the American Fertility Association, part of the screening process for donors is to assess “need” from “want.”  A potential donor who is looking for the money to pay off her credit card debt is much less likely to pass the screening process than a donor who is looking to pay off student loans as a certain level of responsibility is inferred.  While financial compensation is involved, steps are taken to ensure that donors are not there for the wrong reasons.

For many, gamete donation is the preferred path to take when dealing with infertility.  Being able to separate the myths from the facts is an important step in deciding how to proceed when trying to grow your family.  If you have questions about sperm donation or egg donation, and would like to speak with an attorney, please call 310-598-6428 or email 

The information you obtain at this site is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. You should consult an attorney for advice regarding your individual situation. We invite you to contact us and welcome your calls, letters and electronic mail. Contacting us does not create an attorney-client relationship. Please do not send any confidential information to us until such time as an attorney-client relationship has been established.



Tips for International Parents Using a Surrogate in California

International surrogacy arrangements can seem daunting, but if you are working with an experienced surrogacy lawyer, surrogacy agency and medical staff, many of the complications can be eliminated or proactively addressed through proper drafting of contracts, screening of the surrogate, and medical screening for any possible health conditions.

Here are some tips for a smooth international surrogacy relationship:

  • Work with a reputable surrogacy agency that can provide you with references from former clients and other fertility professionals in their area.
  • Consult with a surrogacy lawyer who has specific expertise in family formation law including surrogacy, egg donation, sperm donation and embryo disposition.
  • Get to know your surrogate.  This is an important relationship, and as in all relationships, communication is key to a harmonious and smooth process. 
  • Understand the laws in the state where your surrogate lives.  California surrogacy law is relatively new, and therefore it is of the utmost importance to work closely with a qualified surrogacy lawyer.
  • Work with an immigration attorney in your home country to ensure a smooth return home after your baby is born.

The Family Formation Law Center regularly works with Intended Parents from all over the world including China, Australia, France, Switzerland, Italy, Spain, Argentina, Brazil and Japan.  Please contact us if you would like to speak to a surrogacy lawyer in Los Angeles or the San Francisco Bay Area, or would like more information regarding international surrogacy.  310-598-6428 or

Do I need to adopt the baby I had with my domestic partner?

Do I need to adopt my own child?  Why it is important for Lesbian and Gay parents to achieve formal recognition of their parentage through the court. 

Although California has taken steps to provide legal protections to same-sex unions, the state of the law is unsettled and under close scrutiny by governing bodies in California, throughout the United States and abroad.  Even though your name is on the birth certificate, your legal parentage rights are not guaranteed if you are not biologically related to the child. 

The Full Faith & Credit Clause of the United States Constitution – which is what makes judgments portable from state to state – does not protect statuses. Being married is a “status” and this is why other states don’t have to honor California’s recognition of domestic partnerships, civil unions or same-sex marriages.  But, if you have a judgment declaring you the legal parent, then that judgment is entitled to Full Faith & Credit in every state in the country.  Therefore, in order to have your parental status fully recognized in every state, lesbian and gay parents must make certain they have court judgments saying they are parents.  This can be accomplished through a “second-parent adoption.”

Unfortunately, we have a recent example in our national law of why these judgments are essential.  In Miller-Jenkins v. Miller-Jenkins, the State of Virginia refused to recognize the parental rights of the non-biological mother of a child born to a lesbian couple who entered into a civil union in the State of Vermont before the child’s birth.  The Virginia trial court refused to acknowledge the parent-child relationship despite the fact that the child was born into an intact Vermont civil union.  Fortunately, the Virginia trial court decision was overturned on appeal, since a Vermont family court had already taken jurisdiction over the case and entered custody and support orders prior to the marriage being filed in Virginia.  However, this case is just one graphic illustration of why it is so important to gain legal recognition of parentage in the form of a judgment via a second-parent adoption or domestic-partner adoption.

Another reason why establishing legal parentage is imperative is the likely prospect of the federal government refusing to recognize parentage based on same-sex marriages, civil unions, or domestic partnerships even when there is no conflict between the parents.  A situation may arise where the non-biological mother/father dies when the child is young and the surviving mother/father applies for Social Security benefits based on the fact that the birth certificate lists both parents (including the late non-biological mother) as parents.  It is very possible that the federal government could deny Social Security benefits to the child on the grounds that the deceased partner’s claim of parentage “arises from” a same-sex marriage, which is denied federal recognition.  There are many other situations where the federal government may not recognize parentage without a legal judgment including an IRS audit or a possibility that the Department of Homeland Security would refuse to issue your child a passport with your partner listed as a parent. 

The unfortunate result of the above information is that lesbian and gay parents cannot rely on state-by-state recognition of their relationship to establish formal legal parentage of their children.  Each parent must do his or her own research to establish and secure an independent legal relationship with his or her child that is not dependent on the state recognition of his/her relationship with his/her spouse or partner. 

For more information about domestic-partner adoption, second-parent adoption, or step-parent adoption, call 310-598-6428 or email

Give your family the gift of basic estate planning

Did you know that nearly two thirds of Americans haven't even done basic estate planning? 

There is often a mountain of paperwork that needs to be dealt with when a loved one passes away.  Did you know that you have to file taxes for someone after they die?  Or pay their bills on time to avoid penalties?

You can remove a lot of the burden on your family by taking these simple steps:

  • Update the contact and beneficiary information on all of your important accounts (retirement, investment, insurances), then set a calendar reminder to check it yearly for accuracy.
  • Take inventory of all your assets and expenses and keep them in a safe place with your important documents.
  • Complete an Advance Health Care Directive with your desired medical and end-of-life instructions.
  • Select someone to serve as executor or trustee to oversee your estate.
  • Review your assets and medical wishes with your executor or trustee and then store the information somewhere secure.

Call The Family Formation Law Center for a complimentary review of your current estate plan and a discussion of your needs 310-598-6428.

Divorcing Women: Here's Where Husbands Typically Hide Assets

An article on asks the tough questions: Could your husband be hiding assets? And if he is hiding assets, does that mean that you won't get the divorce settlement that you deserve?

If your husband wants to undervalue or disguise assets from you, he may:

  • Purchase items that could easily be overlooked or undervalued.  Maybe no one will notice that expensive antique/carpet that's now at his office?  Were you wondering why he recently made several significant additions to his coin/stamp/art collection?
  • Stash money in a safe deposit box, somewhere in the house or elsewhere.  Think through your husband's recent habits and activities.  Does anything lead you to believe he is hiding assets in actual cash?
  • Underreport income on tax returns and/or financial statements. If it's not reported, it can't be used in a financial analysis. 
  • Overpay the IRS or creditors.  If your husband overpays, he can get the refund later, after the divorce is final. 
  • Defer salary, delay signing new contracts and/or hold commissions.  This trick means this income won't be "on the books" during the divorce proceedings.
  • Create phony debt.  Your husband can collude with family members and/or friends to establish phone loans or expenses.  Then, he can make payments to the family members or friends, knowing that he'll get all the money back after the divorce is final. 
  • Set up a custodial account in the name of a child, using the child's social security number.  He could also use his girlfriend's social security number, in which case it might be difficult to locate the account. 
  • Transfer stock. Your husband may transfer stock/investment accounts into the name of family members, business partners or "dummy" companies.  After the divorce is final, the assets can be transferred back to him. 

The full text of the article can be found by clicking here or visiting 

Call The Family Formation Law Center to determine what rights you have during your divorce at 310.598.6428 or email

The information you obtain at this site is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. You should consult an attorney for advice regarding your individual situation. We invite you to contact us and welcome your calls, letters and electronic mail. Contacting us does not create an attorney-client relationship. Please do not send any confidential information to us until such time as an attorney-client relationship has been established.


Do posthumously conceived kids get Social Security Benefits? The Supremes will decide soon.

Shortly after Robert Nicholas Capato’s death, his wife Karen Capato underwent in vitro fertilization using his frozen sperm and gave birth to twins in 2003. Karen Capato applied for Social Security benefits on behalf of her twins as survivors of a deceased wage earner. The Social Security Administration ("SSA") denied her claim. An Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) affirmed, ruling that state intestacy law controls eligibility for survivor benefits for posthumously conceived children under the Social Security Act ("Act"). Therefore, the twins were ineligible for benefits under the applicable Florida law. On appeal, the district court affirmed the ALJ’s reading. The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit reversed and ruled that the plain language of the Act entitles the Capato twins, whose parentage is not in dispute, to survivor benefits. Petitioner Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of the SSA, argues that the Act requires the agency to apply state intestacy law to determine whether an applicant is the child of an insured wage earner for the purpose of receiving survivor benefits. In contrast, Respondent Karen K. Capato contends that the Act unambiguously entitles undisputed biological children of married parents to survivor benefits, without referring to state intestacy laws. The Supreme Court’s decision will authoritatively interpret the Act’s mandate on the determination of survivor benefits eligibility, and possibly reflect on the balance between legislative rulemaking and unanticipated progress of science and technology.

Should Karen's child be able to receive Social Security Benefits?  Read the full text of the issue presented on Cornell law by clicking here

Have questions about estate planning, sperm donation or social secuirty benefits?  Call our office for a consultation at 310.598.6428. 

Tips for Chinese Intended Parents Using a Surrogate in California

On Sunday, the Los Angeles Times ran a front-page story about the increase in surrogacy tourism from would-be parents in China.  Due to rising affluence in China and the growing business of surrogacy in Los Angeles, there has been a steady demand for international intended parents coming here in search of a surrogate.

Many Chinese couples call our office seeking referrals for surrogacy agencies, egg donation agencies, fertility clinics, reproductive endocrinologists and mental health care professionals.  Below we’ve compiled a list of important things for Chinese couples to know when seeking a surrogate in Los Angeles:

  • It is important to engage an attorney who is knowledgeable in immigration law both in California and China.  For many Chinese couples, the American birth certificate for their baby is an added benefit to using a surrogate in California.  However, the laws are complex and it is important to fully understand the benefits and drawbacks.
  • If you are seeking a Chinese egg donor, it is critical to work closely with an agency who can help locate and screen potential donors.  
  • Before entering into a surrogacy contract, Intended Parents should sit down with their attorney or agency representative to review the total costs involved with surrogacy, ensure there is adequate health insurance available for the surrogate and the baby, and fully understand the scope of the relationship with the surrogate.
  • If you are entering into a private surrogacy arrangement, without the use of an agency, it is critical to engage an attorney, a mental health professional and a medical specialist.

The Family Formation Law Center works with the best and the brightest medical specialists, fertility clinics, cryopreservation laboratories, adoption agencies, egg/sperm donation agencies, psychologists and attorneys across the country and around the world.  If you are looking for professional advice and counsel regarding your family options, call our office to schedule a consultation at 310.598.6428 or email

Chinese couples come to U.S. to have children through surrogacy

This story ran in the Los Angeles Times on February 19, 2012 and was written by Shan Li

Americans have long gone to China to adopt babies. In a twist, Chinese couples are now coming here to become parents — through surrogacy.

China does not permit surrogate parenting, but that country's rising affluence has given many couples the option of coming to U.S. surrogacy clinics. California, with its large Chinese American community and its courts' liberal attitude toward surrogacy, is a prime destination.

Jerry Zhu and Grace Sun of Beijing have so far saved $60,000 toward the expected $100,000 cost of surrogate birth. They hope to come to Los Angeles later this year for the procedure.

"It's going to be expensive," said Zhu, who manages a furniture factory. "But if we have a child it will complete the family. We are hoping for a son."

U.S. and Chinese authorities say they do not track the numbers of Chinese couples coming here for surrogacy services, but surrogacy experts and clinic operators say there has been a sharp upswing.

"In the last year, it went from nonexistent to being tremendous," said Parham Zar, managing director of the Egg Donor & Surrogacy Institute in Los Angeles. He estimates that about half of his company's business comes from Chinese couples.

Surrogate Alternatives Inc. of San Diego has three agents in China who recruit couples. Last year about 40% of Surrogate Alternatives' 140 client couples were from China, Chief Executive Diana Van De Voort-Perez said.

Zhu, 42, and Sun, 35, said they haven't chosen a clinic yet, but know they want to have the procedure performed in Southern California because of the many clinics here that specialize in surrogate births. The couple, who requested that their English nicknames be used because surrogacy is frowned upon by many people in China, said they came to their decision after several miscarriages.

"Of course we would rather have our own child naturally, but we realized that that might be impossible," Zhu said.

Like most couples, Zhu and Sun hope for a so-called gestational surrogacy, in which an embryo created by the woman's egg and the man's sperm is implanted in a surrogate mother who will bear the child.

Clinic directors say a gestational surrogacy typically costs $80,000 to $120,000, with higher costs if there are complications or if repeated implants are needed.

The price rises about $30,000 if the prospective mother's eggs are not viable. In these cases, the clinics typically obtain eggs from donor clinics.

Most Chinese couples insist on eggs from ethnic Chinese women, which has led to inflated prices, said Dr. Jeffrey Steinberg of the Fertility Institutes in Encino.

A Caucasian woman normally gets about $5,000 to $8,000 for 10 to 14 eggs, Steinberg said, with the money technically being paid for the energy, time and pain associated with the "donation." An ethnic Chinese woman can command $15,000 and up for her eggs, according to Steinberg and other surrogacy specialists.

"It's supply and demand," Steinberg said. "Chinese are the premiums."

Shelley Smith, owner of the Egg Donor Program in Studio City, said she does not usually pay Chinese women more for their eggs, but acknowledged that she is planning to pay an ethnic Chinese woman who lives in New York $15,000, which is higher than her normal fee.

Much of that premium is because the woman is a repeat donor whose eggs have proved to be fertile, Smith said, but other factors are also at play.

"This Chinese egg donor is in great demand," Smith said. "She has perfect 1600 [SAT scores], she is very, very pretty, and she went to an Ivy League school."

Chinese clients have become so important that California surrogacy clinics hire agents based in China to drum up business.

Li Dong Ming works in Beijing for the Agency for Surrogacy Solutions and its sister company, Global IVF in Encino. She gets a "finder's fee" for every client who opts for that firm's service, but declined to specify how much that fee is.

Li said it's not a hard sell.

"They want to go to America because they think the science is better," Li said in Mandarin. "They want a precious treasure, and if finances allow, the dream is to have a baby in America."

A baby born in the U.S. is automatically granted U.S. citizenship, which remains valid even when the couple return to China with the newborn.

Robert Walmsley, an attorney who specializes in surrogacy cases, said American citizenship is an "extra perk" for his Chinese clientele, which he says has grown 20% over the last three years.

Like others, he says the trend is being driven by the robust Chinese economy. Clinic directors say many of their Chinese clients are middle-aged couples who can now afford the cost of raising a second child — and also can afford to pay the hefty financial penalty for violatingChina's"one-child" policy.

"In the last year we have had several Chinese couples already with a child between 16 and 25 years old," said Juli Dean, director of Coastal Surrogacy in Newport Beach. "They are literally starting over again and having a second family."

The process isn't always easy. Dean notes that some Chinese couples see the procedure as strictly a business transaction, viewing the surrogate mother as a hireling. American surrogate mothers, she said, tend to want to have a relationship with the couple whose child they are bearing.

"We have to educate [Chinese couples] that the surrogate is not an employee, that it's more than a business transaction," Dean said. "We have to say it's very disrespectful to the surrogate mother, and a lot of Chinese culture is about respect and not being disrespectful, so they can understand that part and relate to it."

Cultural differences aside, the procedure is also time-consuming — and doesn't always go according to plan.

Amy Lee, 42, and her husband, Harry, 48, of Hong Kong first flew to Los Angeles in 2010 to begin surrogacy procedures. The couple, who used their American nicknames, had always wanted a child, but their careers — she as a film professor, he as the manager of a tech company — had gotten in the way.

Their surrogate became pregnant but miscarried two months later. Later that year Lee went to Beijing to an underground surrogacy clinic. Her surrogate there miscarried too, and Lee decided not to try again in China.

So last year Lee came back to California three times to work with two surrogates. The first attempt did not result in a pregnancy, and the second attempt ended in a miscarriage.

The couple tried again in December with a different surrogate. That resulted in a pregnancy, and they are hoping it goes full term.

"There is a great demand for this in China, but it's illegal in China," Lee said. "So what are couples supposed to do?"

Surrogacy and Sisterhood

Last week The Today Show featured a story on two sisters who are actings as gestational surrogates for their third sister who is medically unable to carry a baby to term. 

When Tanya Ratcliff was told by her doctor’s that although she could conceive, she would never be able to carry a baby, her sisters, Tara Schamel and Cassie Ripp jumped in and offered to carry her children.  Today, both sisters are pregnant.  Tara is expected to give birth to a baby girl in April, while Cassie is due to deliver a baby boy in July. 

This extremely touching story has vast legal implications that must be considered.  Many individuals and couples struggling with infertility turn to surrogacy to help them build a family and many of these surrogates are friends or family members who have offered to help. 

Amidst the medical and emotional implications of surrogacy, there are important legal considerations that must be addressed including:

  • In California, a surrogacy contract must be drafted and signed by all parties before the Surrogate becomes pregnant.
  • The contract between the Surrogate and the Intended Parents must address everything from compensation to medical bills to life insurance.  It is critical to engage the services of a surrogacy attorney to ensure that your contract complies with California law.  
  • The contract should address any sort of future contact between the Surrogate, the Intended Parents and the child or children.  This section is especially important if the Surrogate is a close friend or family member who will remain involved in the child’s life.  
  • In California, the Intended Parents can obtain a Pre-Birth Parentage Order which identifies them as the legal parents upon birth and permits the hospital to put the Intended Parents’ names on the birth certificate immediately.  Without this Judgment from the court, the Intended Parents would have to go through formal adoption proceedings.

Every state has different laws relating to surrogacy and it is absolutely necessary to work with a trusted attorney in your state who can advise you on the current applicable surrogacy laws.  If you are looking for a surrogacy lawyer in California, call our office for a complimentary consultation at 310-598-6428 or email

The information you obtain at this site is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. You should consult an attorney for advice regarding your individual situation. We invite you to contact us and welcome your calls, letters and electronic mail. Contacting us does not create an attorney-client relationship. Please do not send any confidential information to us until such time as an attorney-client relationship has been established.

Estate Planning Checklist for Every Family

Estate Planning Checklist

Care for your family by making a will, setting up a trust, creating a power of attorney, a health care directive, funeral arrangements and more.

  • Make a will.  In a will, you state who you want to inherit your property, and name a guardian to care for your young children should something happen to you.
  • Consider a trust.  If you hold your property in trust, your survivors won't have to go through probate court, a time-consuming and expensive process.
  • Make an advance health care directive.  Also called a "living will" this document lets your physician, family and friends know your health care preferences, including the types of special treatment you want or don't want at the end of your life, your desire for diagnostic testing, surgical procedures, cardiopulmonary resuscitation and organ donation.  By considering your options early, you can ensure the quality of life that is important to you and avoid having your family guess your wishes or having to make critical medical care decisions for you under stress or turmoil. 
  • Make a financial power of attorney.  With a durable power of attorney for finances, you can give a trusted person authority to handle your finances and property if you become incapacitated and unable to handle your own affairs.  The person you name to handle your finances is called your agent or attorney-in-fact (but it doesn't have to be an attorney).
  • Protect your children's property.  You should name an adult to manage any money and property your childdren may inherit from you.  This can be the same person as the personal guardian you name in your will. 
  • File beneficiary forms.  Naming a beneficiary for bank accounts and retirement plans makes the account automatically "payable on death" to your beneficiary and allows the funds to skip the probate process. 
  • Consider life insurance.  If you have young children or own a house, or you may owe significant debts or estate taxes when you die, life insurance is a good idea.

The Family Formation Law Center assists families of every age and size in creating an estate plan that protects their property and cares for their loved ones.  Please call 310.598.6428 for a consultation or email

Five Important Legal Documents Every Caregiver Needs

Taking care of a loved one requires more than just ensuring their needs are met with proper nutrition, safe housing and regulated medication and doctors appointments.  A caregiver is intimately involved with the health and wellbeing of their loved ones and are often the point person when difficult health care choices and financial decisions must be made.  Having the legal right to access your loved one’s medical records and financial information is a crucial part of your caregiving role and can be accomplished with a few simple steps. 

Here are five common forms that most family caregivers will need:

Personal Care Agreement.  This form designates you as your loved one’s official family caregiver regardless of whether you are receiving financial compensation for your services.  This document need not be drafted by an attorney, but it is best to have an agreement in place so that everyone’s expectations and needs are addressed.  A personal care agreement usually addresses topics such as:

  • When you will work or visit your loved one
  • What the caregiver's duties are
  • Any compensation that may be provided
  • How long the agreement is effective
  • Medication and health care schedule
  • Social outing schedule
  • How either party can terminate the agreement

HIPAA privacy release.  By law, the privacy of a patient must be protected by doctors and any medical office that shares information with people other than the patient can face stiff penalties.  But what if you need this information as part of your caregiving duties?  The answer is to have your loved one sign a HIPAA privacy release.  This simple document authorizes the doctor to share necessary information with you about your loved one and is very important to providing you with all the detailed health knowledge you need to be a good caregiver.  Every doctor’s office should have these forms available and you should be able to complete the form right there in the office.  Make sure you have at least 2 original copies. One original should go in the patient’s file in the office, and you as a caregiver should retain one original in your records. 

Advance health care directive.  This document, commonly referred to as a “living will” allows people to make their own end-of-life care decisions before a medical crisis strikes and they are no longer able to competently make decisions about their health care.  This document can also take the strain off of family members who are not sure what their loved one’s wishes are for health care.  Any time someone’s final wishes change, he or she can update this document.  A living will is easy to create and should contain the following information:

  • Whether the person wants to be resuscitated
  • Whether artificial life support should be used
  • Whether the person wants to be hospitalized or remain at home

Although this is a relatively straightforward document, you should consult with an attorney and all signatures should be notarized as this document is often the source of family conflict and angst.  Once the living will has been notarized, make sure to add an original to your loved one’s medical records and retain an original in your own file.

Durable power of attorney for health care.  If your loved one becomes mentally incapacitated and cannot make sound decisions anymore, they will need their caregiver to act as their health care proxy.  This person will be legally designated to make health care decisions on behalf of the patient.  It is important that your loved one signs this document before there is any concern over mental incapacity or it will be invalidated.  

It is crucial for your loved one to choose someone with good judgment who is familiar with their wishes to act as a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care.  Unlike a living will, this document leaves most decision-making authority to the person appointed.  It is a complex form and it is important that it is drafted by a trusted attorney and properly notarized.

Financial Power of Attorney.  If your loved one becomes incapacitated, he or she will no longer be able to handle their finances and it is important that they designate someone to pay their bills, file tax returns and manage their accounts. 

By assigning the role of a financial power of attorney to a trustworthy caregiver, your loved one can be assured that their financial needs will be met.  This document will also need to be drafted by an attorney and properly notarized before it can go into effect. 

If you have any questions about the legal concerns of caring for a loved one or want to protect your loved one’s interests, please call Rose Kesten Pondel, Esq. at The Family Formation Law Center at 310.598.6428 for more information or email

The Power of a Hug

The New York Times featured on Op-Ed piece last weekend that discussed a landmark warning issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics this month warning that “toxic stress” can harm children for life.

This policy statement from the premier association of pediatricians, based on two decades of scientific research has potentially revolutionary implications for medicine and for how we can more effectively chip away at poverty and crime.  

The article states:

Toxic stress might arise from parental abuse of alcohol or drugs. It could occur in a home where children are threatened and beaten. It might derive from chronic neglect — a child cries without being cuddled. Affection seems to defuse toxic stress — keep those hugs and lullabies coming! — suggesting that the stress emerges when a child senses persistent threats but no protector.

Cues of a hostile or indifferent environment flood an infant, or even a fetus, with stress hormones like cortisol in ways that can disrupt the body’s metabolism or the architecture of the brain.

The upshot is that children are sometimes permanently undermined. Even many years later, as adults, they are more likely to suffer heart disease, obesity, diabetes and other physical ailments. They are also more likely to struggle in school, have short tempers and tangle with the law.

The crucial period seems to be from conception through early childhood. After that, the brain is less pliable and has trouble being remolded.

“You can modify behavior later, but you can’t rewire disrupted brain circuits,” notes Jack P. Shonkoff, a Harvard pediatrician who has been a leader in this field. “We’re beginning to get a pretty compelling biological model of why kids who have experienced adversity have trouble learning.”

The implication is that the most cost-effective window to bring about change isn’t high school or even kindergarten — although much greater efforts are needed in schools as well — but in the early years of life, or even before birth.

“Protecting young children from adversity is a promising, science-based strategy to address many of the most persistent and costly problems facing contemporary society, including limited educational achievement, diminished economic productivity, criminality, and disparities in health,” the pediatrics academy said in its policy statement.

One successful example of early intervention is home visitation by childcare experts, like those from the Nurse-Family Partnership. This organization sends nurses to visit poor, vulnerable women who are pregnant for the first time. The nurse warns against smoking and alcohol and drug abuse, and later encourages breast-feeding and good nutrition, while coaxing mothers to cuddle their children and read to them. This program continues until the child is 2.

At age 6, studies have found, these children are only one-third as likely to have behavioral or intellectual problems as others who weren’t enrolled. At age 15, the children are less than half as likely to have been arrested.

Evidence of the importance of early experiences has been mounting like snowflakes in a blizzard. For example, several studies examined Dutch men and women who had been in utero during a brief famine at the end of World War II. Decades later, those “famine babies” had more trouble concentrating and more heart disease than those born before or after.

Other scholars examined children who had been badly neglected in Romanian orphanages. Those who spent more time in the orphanages had shorter telomeres, a change in chromosomes that’s a marker of accelerated aging. Their brain scans also looked different.

The science is still accumulating. But a compelling message from biology is that if we want to chip away at poverty and improve educational and health outcomes, we have to start earlier. For many children, damage has been suffered before the first day of school.

As Frederick Douglass noted, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”

Click here for the full text of the article on

And Baby Makes Three . . .

Guest Post by Brittney Castro, CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER professional
and creator of

According to a recent study by the US Department of Agriculture, estimated costs of raising a child born in 2010 through age 17 in a middle-income household is $286,860.1  Given this price tag, couples who are planning to become parents need to plan ahead. 

If you are about to start your family, here are some helpful tips to consider as you navigate through this new life stage.

Review your Spending Plan
As you can imagine, having a child definitely changes up your cash flow.  New expenses associated with having kids such as diapers, formula, and child care all need to be calculated and factored into your spending plan.  The goal is to make sure you can afford these additional expenses and still save for your goals.  Of course, some new sacrifices may have to be made, so it is important you and your spouse discuss what areas you can cut back on if need be.  As your children grow up, continue to review your spending plan on a regular basis to ensure you are keeping up with all the changing expenses of your child, i.e. child care, day care, school tuition, after school activities, etc.

Decide on Childcare
Is staying home to raise your children an option, or will you need to find childcare? About 55% of women return to work within the first 6 months of having a baby2, which means most women will have to factor in the additional costs of childcare into their spending plan.  Depending on where you live and what type of care you choose, full time day care for an infant can range from  $4,560-$18,773 annually!

You will also need to consider the legal aspects of hiring help.  Lisa Pierson Weinberger, attorney and owner of Mom, Esq. states, “Whether you're about to have or adopt a baby, thinking about childcare or preparing to return to work, there’s a whole range of employment-related legal issues to consider.”  She helps women in this stage understand the legal issues of childcare and ensures they are protecting themselves, their family, and their assets.  For more information check out her website,

Review your Health & Disability Insurance
Before you have a baby, make sure you understand how much of your childbirth costs are covered by your current health insurance plan.   Once your baby is born, make sure to add your child to your health insurance plan. Also, check your disability insurance to see if you get any benefits while on maternity leave.

Get Life Insurance
Now that you have brought your little bundle of joy into the world, you want to make sure they are protected financially if something should happen to you or your spouse.  Get life insurance to cover survivor income needs and ensure you are adequately covered based on your current financial situation and financial goals.

Adjust your Tax Withholdings
Now that you have just added another dependent to your tax situation, you will want work with your tax professional to confirm you are withholding the proper exemptions on your paycheck.

Claim all your Credits
Take advantage of all of the tax breaks available to families with children.  The child tax credit, adoption credit and childcare credit are some of the common credits now available to you.  All of these credits have special qualification rules so work with your tax professional to understand which ones, if any, apply to you.

Start a College Fund
Talk with your spouse about what your goal is for your child’s education.  Do you want to be able to pay for private K-12 schools, or save for their college costs, or both?  Now determine the potential cost of school and how much money you can realistically save toward their education goal. If you can’t maximize your own retirement savings and put away money for college, it’s more important to save for retirement, as loans and scholarships can help pay for higher education.  Consider opening up an education fund (Coverdell, 529, etc) and have family members contribute to these plans if you cannot.  Birthdays and holidays are a good time to re-direct any monetary gifts into your child’s education fund.  Work with a financial planner for more information of these types of accounts.

Get Estate Documents in Place
Work with an estate planning attorney to get the proper documents in place to name a guardian for your children and protect them in the event of your death.  You don’t want guardianship issues to be settled in court if anything happens to you.  Naming a guardian to care for your children after your gone is a very difficult choice, but once you know who you want to care for your children in the event of your death, you must get the proper documents in place.  Don’t procrastinate any longer, get your estate documents in place and protect your loved ones.

Teach your Children about Money
Include your kids in the family’s financial discussions as soon as they are old enough to understand, typically when they start school.  For younger kids, between 1-5 years old you can set up 3 piggy banks for their money; one for saving, one for charity and one for spending.  For kids ages 6 and up, you can begin to give them an allowance and treat it like a paycheck.  Every two weeks pay them their allowance and perhaps offer “bonuses” (more allowance money) for any additional chores they do around the house.  Then take them to the bank and open a savings account for them and encourage them to start saving 10-20% of their money. You can also decide to match any money they save on their own, just like an employer would match your 401k contribution.  This is a great way to show them how to strike a balance between saving and spending. Remember, a little financial education can go a long way to help shape them into financially savvy adults later in life.
USDA, Expenditures on Children by Families, 2010
U.S. Census Bureau. (2008, February). Maternity leave and employment patterns of first time mothers: 1961-2003. Retrieved April 15,2010. from
Data provided by Child Care Resource and Referral agencies in 2009/2010.
This post was contributed by Brittney Castro, CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNERTM  professional and creator of  Brittney Castro, CFP® helps create a financial road map for a woman’s different goals in life.  She also educates clients on different options, enabling them to make smart decisions.  She has a passion for educating individuals on financial topics and speaks for various groups and organizations. Brittney Castro is available for speaking engagements, radio and telephone interviews, and other media appearances. Connect with Brittney at Brittney Castro is not affiliated with Rose Kesten Pondel, The Family Fomation Law Center or Kesten Law. Brittney A. Castro is a registered representative with and securities offered through LPL Financial, Member FINRA/SIPC.   California Insurance License #0F33895.