California residents who follow the career of Sherri Shepherd may sympathize with her legal challenges related to a child of her failed marriage to Lamar Sally. The couple contracted through a surrogacy agency to have a woman carry a child on their behalf, but prior to the child's birth, the couple separated. At the time of their divorce, Shepherd sought to have the contract voided, but she was deemed to be the legal mother by a Pennsylvania court in 2015.
Shepherd has since attempted to appeal the decision, which also resulted in a child support order that is to remain in force until the child reaches 13 years of age. The lower court's decision was upheld at both the appellate court level and by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Shepherd is out of options for removing her name from the child's birth certificate and avoiding the support obligation. As a legal parent, however, she could potentially exercise visitation rights or even seek custody.
Surrogacy is an area of parenting that can be rather controversial. However, parents have legal obligations to their children whether through surrogacy, adoption or natural avenues. A legal parent also typically has rights in terms of parenting time when divorce occurs. Unless there is good reason to deny legal custody, for example, both parents would typically have the right to participate in the decision-making process related to a child's health, education, and general care.
Custody arrangements would typically depend on the goals of the parents, the needs of a child, and the ability of the parties involved to cooperate over these issues. In some cases, a family law attorney can help a divorcing parent in negotiating a settlement agreement. If parents cannot agree or work together to find solutions, a judge might need to make the final decision on such matters.