What does Sherri Shephard’s Loss in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court Mean for Pennsylvania Surrogacy Law?

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Late last year, former The View co-host, Sherri Shepard, lost her appeal before the Pennsylvania Superior Court requesting that the Court hold that she be free from any and obligations as the mother of a child conceived with her ex-husband through a surrogate. Ms. Shepard filed a Petition for Allocatur requesting that the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania hear her case. The highest court of Pennsylvania declined to entertain her appeal this week.

Shephard, who spent over $1000,000 to arrange the surrogacy with her then husband, Lamar Sally, wants to stop paying over $4,000 per month in child support and have her name removed from the birth certificate for the child for the one-year-old child she has never seen. Shephard argues that the contract that she entered into with the surrogate was not enforceable and invalid. When this case was decided by the Court of Common Pleas, it was the first case in Pennsylvania to address the validity of Surrogacy contracts. The issue of surrogacy has come to the limelight in courts across the country as reproductive technology becomes more and more common.

Until this case was decided, there was no formal law in Pennsylvania regarding the validity of surrogacy contracts. The existing statute was vague to say the least. By declining to hear Ms. Shepard’s appeal, the Supreme Court indirectly indicated that the earlier decision of the Pennsylvania Superior Court would stand and serve as precedent in future cases. Going forward, surrogacy contracts of the type that Ms. Shephard entered into will be enforceable even if one of the parties changes their mind after the child is conceived.

The new precedent in Pennsylvania is that parties to surrogacy contracts will be considered the legal parents of the children conceived as a result. This means that the parents will take on all the obligations and responsibilities associated with legal paternity or maternity including financial support and custody in some cases. This case has filled some of the holes that exist in Pennsylvania family law regarding reproductive technology; however, some questions still exist. In Ms. Shepard’s case, the surrogate carrier did not seek custody or legal rights to the child. However, at this time, Pennsylvania law is largely silent on the issue of what rights if any a surrogate carrier or egg or sperm donor may have to a child. This case may be used to argue for the limitation of custody rights and financial obligations for these individuals in the future.

If you are looking are considering entering into a surrogacy agreement and would like to ensure you enter into a fair and enforceable contract, contact our offices in Pittsburgh or Cranberry today!