The fight between comedienne Sherri Shepherd and her former husband, Lamar Sally, over the legal maternity of Lamar Sally, Jr is officially over. According to People Magazine, a Pennsylvania judge declared Shepherd the legal mother of LJ today, April 21, 2015. The couple will now fight it out over child support in a Los Angeles courtroom.
Shepherd, who was once a co-host of The View, denied maternity of LJ, who was conceived using Sally’s sperm and donor eggs. A surrogate carried the child for the former couple, so Shepherd has absolutely no biological tie to the baby. LJ was born in August of 2014, at the time Shepherd and Sally had separated. Shepherd denied ever agreeing to becoming parents to LJ, and said she had been duped.
Once LJ was born, Sally took custody of the child, but the designation of the “legal mother” of LJ was unclear. Since most state laws are still trying to catch up with technology, this issue will not be unique to Shepherd and Sally. As a matter of fact, contracting for the birth of a child is an old issue that dates back to the 1990s.
One of the preeminent cases regarding the custody and legal parentage of a child was “In Re: Marriage of John A. and Luanne H. Buzzanca,” also known as “In Re: The Custody of Jaycee W.” The Buzzancas had contracted for the birth of a child who was genetically unrelated to both of them. The Buzzancas used donor eggs, donor sperm, and a surrogate. While the surrogate was still pregnant, the Buzzancas split up.
Luanne Buzzanca sought custody and child support, and John Buzzanca, like Shepherd, denied that the child was his or his estranged wife’s at all, and therefore he owed no support, financial or otherwise. The trial court declared that Jaycee W. had no legal parents. The difference between the Shepherd matter and the Buzzanca matter is that Lamar Sally is actually the biological father of LJ, so determining his paternity was simple.
But what about determining the paternity (or maternity in this case) of someone who is biologically unrelated to a child. Well the California Court of Appeals in the Buzzanca matter had no problem whatsoever determining the legal parents of Jaycee W. The California Court of Appeals, in 1998, stated:
Let us get right to the point: Jaycee never would have been born had not Luanne and John both agreed to have a fertilized egg implanted in a surrogate.
The trial judge erred because he assumed that legal motherhood, under the relevant California statutes, could only be established in one of two ways, either by giving birth or by contributing an egg. He failed to consider the substantial and well-settled body of law holding that there are times when fatherhood can be established by conduct apart from giving birth or being genetically related to a child. The typical example is when an infertile husband consents to allowing his wife to be artificially inseminated. As our Supreme Court noted in such a situation over 30 years ago, the husband is the “lawful father” because he consented to the procreation of the child. (See People v. Sorensen (1968) 68 Cal.2d 280, 284-286, 66 Cal.Rptr. 7, 437 P.2d 495.)
It appears that the Pennsylvania court came to a similar decision as it relates to Shepherd’s role in the birth of LJ. According to reports, a videotape of Shepherd expressing her excitement about the birth of LJ was used as evidence in the Pennsylvania court case, for which Shepherd did not appear. Sally has been receiving public assistance to support LJ, but now that Shepherd is on the birth certificate, he can seek child support from her.
Some states, like North Carolina, still do not have laws that address surrogacy or egg donation, although most have laws regarding sperm donation as it relates to legal parentage of children. Unfortunately, as technology continues to advance, laws continue to lag behind. No one can say for certain how this case would have turned out had it been in a different jurisdiction.
What do you think? Is it fair that Shepherd has been declared the legal mother or do you believe Sally duped her with gold-digging intentions?