Sherri Sheppard... You are the Mother!

Sherri Sheppard . . . YOU ARE THE MOTHER! At first blush, this reads like an episode of The Maury Povich show. However, this time a Pennsylvania court had to determine who is the legal mother of eight-month old Baby Sally. Is it the surrogate, or is it Sherri Sheppard who contracted with her now estranged husband to have a child through a surrogate with a donor egg? The Pennsylvania court ruled that Ms. Sheppard is the legal mother. How did this happen you may ask? This case may be unique in its facts. However, it is not uncommon for a non-biological father to be considered the legal father.

In Ms. Sheppard’s case, the court decided that it is in Baby Sally’s best interest to uphold the contract entered into prior to Ms. Sheppard separating from her husband. Even in cases where surrogates are not used, parents wishing to “give up” their parental rights in California are still responsible for child support because the court has determined this to be in a child’s best interest.

This is an interesting topic. I had a similar case where I represented biological dad. Biological dad did not want to be considered the father under the law. The court ruled that mom's husband, not biological dad, is the presumed father under the law because he was married to mom shortly after the child was conceived, held himself out to be the father for many years and the daughter thought of her step-dad as her father. A non-biological father can be named the father under the law if certain factors are present. If you are a step-father and do not want the court to consider you the presumed father years down the road (should things not work out with you and your spouse), you may want to ensure the following: 1) You do not hold yourself out to be the biological father; 2) Your name is NOT on the birth certificate; 3) the child knows who their real father is; and 4) You do not list yourself as the father on any documents. Of course, the court will have to examine many factors and will make orders based on the best interest of the child. However, it should be noted that step-parents will usually only be considered as presumed parents if custody of the child has not previously been established.

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