Popular daytime television co-host Sherri Shepherd has found herself in the midst of a complicated divorce. Shepherd and her estranged husband, Lamar Sally, filed for divorce after marrying in August of 2011 and planning to start a family. After a few years of struggling to get pregnant, the couple turned to surrogacy as the next course of action. OBGYN Dr. Adolphus Sowemimo explains that couples often turn to surrogacy after failed in-vitro fertilization attempts, as it only requires a willing surrogate mother and viable sperm.
Shepherd was previously married to comedian Jeff Tarpley. The two entertainers struggled to conceive a child until they had a son in 2005 and subsequently divorced. After re-marrying, Shepherd is finding that this recent divorce may be more complicated than she anticipated. The View co-host cited irreconcilable differences in her recent court documents but the divorce quickly became unique when the discussion turned towards the fate of her unborn child.
Shepherd has stated that she does not wish to raise the child because she believes that her estranged husband is attempting to defraud her. She claims that Lamar Sally pressured the entertainment star into agreeing to the surrogacy so that he could divorce her and then collect child support. While it’s nearly impossible to prove that his actions were intentional, Sally filed for divorce in California although the couple lived in New Jersey. California courts have a long history of recognizing surrogacy agreements while courts in New Jersey are not as welcoming to these types of arrangements.
Now Shepherd wants a judge to rule that she has no parental rights or responsibilities to the child, making it impossible for Sally to attempt to collect child support. Dr. Adolphus Sowemimo explains that there are two distinct types of surrogacy, gestational surrogacy and traditional surrogacy. In gestational surrogacy, the pregnancy is the result of an embryo transfer after in-vitro fertilization. In that case, the child would be unrelated to the surrogate.
During traditional surrogacy, the surrogate is impregnated with a male’s sperm and the resulting child is genetically related to the surrogate. Although Sherri Shepherd is not genetically related to the unborn child, it is still possible that a court may find her obligated to pay child support. Where a custody battle ensues, in the US case law, the courts have mostly sided with the surrogate when she is the genetic mother of the child she carried. The courts will take into consideration what type of contract was signed with the surrogate mother by Shepherd and her husband: whether this included the stipulation confirming that Shepherd will be the mother of the unborn child after birth or not (similar to an adoption). However, this is speculation and it remains uncertain, which direction the courts will take to address this unique situation.