However, the same judge immediately stayed the order, pending an appeal by the ex-husband.
In this landmark case, the ex-husband wants to preserve the embryos to have a child with another woman or to donate them to an infertile couple. The woman wants the embryos destroyed.
By court order, the identity of the Camden County couple was not revealed.
New Jersey Superior Court Family Judge Lee B. Laskin said that, although the couple had entered into an agreement to have a child, such an understanding ended when the marriage ceased. He said the couple did not go through the process of fertility treatments to "begin an enterprise of selling or donating embryos to other couples."
The judge also said the man is healthy and capable of having children.
"My client wants them destroyed because she is no longer interested in having children with her former husband" said Amy Goldstein,, the lawyer representing the woman.
Attorney Eric Spevak, who represents the ex-husband, said he was disappointed but not surprised at the judge's decision.
"We feel very strongly that, just like single parent adoptions, my client should have the chance to choose to adopt his own embryos, and to choose life" he said.
Goldstein argued that her client underwent in-vitro fertilization in 1995 after several failed attempts at pregnancy during the marriage.
Her client eventually became pregnant naturally, and gave birth to a daughter in March 1996. The couple decided to divorce in November 1996, and the marriage formally ended two weeks ago, in September.
The judge's opinion followed other rulings in similar cases. Laskin cited decisions by highest courts in two other states that sided with the spouse wanting to destroy the embryos.
Although the couple signed a consent agreement to undergo fertility treatment, it did not specifically address what would happen to the embryos in case of divorce.
A New Jersey assemblyman has introduced a bill to the state Legislature that would require couples to enter into binding agreements about the fate of frozen embryos.