Evie Jeang takes international divorce and surrogacy to the next level
Published in 2017 Southern California Super Lawyers magazine on January 20, 2017
When she was 4 years old and living in Taipei, Taiwan, Evie Jeang wanted to be a judge.
That year, her parents divorced, and her mom left for the U.S. to start over—leaving Jeang in the care of her grandmother.
“She pretty much raised me and my sister with her retirement money and whatever money that my mom could send to her,” says the founder and managing partner at Ideal Legal Group. “So, when I was little, I would go to the courthouse and listen to cases. I wanted to be the judge because I thought the judge was really powerful. As a little kid, you see this person wearing the gown and making all the decisions. It seemed like everybody is nice to him, and you’re like, ‘That’s what I want to be.’”
At 12, Jeang reunited with her mother in Los Angeles; and as she learned a new language and made new friends, she became less like a judge and more like someone one who might appear before a judge. “People are always surprised when they find out I’d gone to UCLA, graduated and become a lawyer,” she says. “They’re shocked because I wasn’t that kid. I was a trouble kid.”
Despite seeing their trouble kid end up on the right side of the law, her parents were still picky about her practice area. Her father thought business law was the way to go, while her mom didn’t want her involved in divorces. As a child of divorce, however, Jeang saw herself as the perfect candidate for family law.
“I wanted to make a difference, and encourage people to work on their marriages. And if they have to go do that, at least create the least amount of damage to the kids,” she says. “When I was growing up, it was a lot of damage on my mom and me.”
She specializes in international divorce, which she says doesn’t actually differ much from the domestic variety—although one of the biggest issues she faces is whether U.S. courts have the power to make decisions on property distribution and child custody overseas.
Increasingly, though, she’s involved in surrogacy matters. And increasingly, it’s not a couple looking for a surrogate.
“I have a lot of single professional men [as clients], who made tons of money in China with the new money, and they don’t believe in marriage anymore,” she says. “For them, women are easy to come by. And they also want to protect the new money they’ve made. So a lot of them are coming over, looking for an egg donor and a surrogate mother.” The U.S. is attractive, she adds, because of its surrogacy laws and advanced medical procedures. “Everybody wants to have U.S. citizenship, and having a child born in the U.S. makes them automatically a citizen.”
According to Jeang, the egg and the surrogate should be separate to avoid emotional complications. In a sense, Jeang is a high-tech matchmaker, bringing together client, egg and surrogate. She draws up contracts so responsibilities are clearly outlined.
Since surrogacy circles are “really small,” word has spread quickly overseas about her U.S.-based practice. It doesn’t hurt, she says, that she’s one of the few attorneys working in surrogacy who can speak and write Chinese. “And,” says Jeang, “I’m the only attorney who actually went through the procedure myself.”
When Jeang was 30, she froze her eggs, and the story made The Wall Street Journal. It allowed her to focus on her career, then have the child when she was ready, which she did three years ago—with a surrogate.
“I know the whole procedure scientifically, medically and the legal side of it,” she adds. “I might not be able to find the man or the woman of your dreams, but I can definitely find a sperm or egg donor.”
She adds: “Whenever people are like, ‘Family law attorneys are the worst: they always break people apart; they want people to fight so they can make more money,’ it’s totally not me—I’m the opposite. If anything, I look at it and say, ‘Hey, I don’t just destroy families. I also create families.”