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Court: Contract binds parents to child support in surrogacy case

The traditional view is that if two adults bring a new baby into the world, they both have a responsibility to contribute to the well-being of the child. But as nearly everyone would likely attest, family law is one area in which tradition does not always apply.

It is in this environment that the courts in Louisiana continue to weigh in when issues related to child custody and child support are brought into question. The rights of the individual parents carry weight. But what the law says the court has to be particularly concerned about is the best interests of the child. And in such instances, tradition may still rule.

This is a tenet that seems to have been applied in a case involving a surrogate birth contract between actress Sherri Shepherd and her ex-husband Lamar Sally. The takeaway from the ruling by a Pennsylvania appeals court is that an adult who enters into a legitimate surrogate birth contract, but has a change of heart before the baby is born, can't just back out of the deal.

In other words, the traditional view that a child has a right to support from both its parents still holds sway, regardless of whether he or she was conceived naturally or by some artificial means.

By way of background, Shepherd and Sally reportedly entered into the gestational carrier contract in 2013. That document included a statement saying that they would be "acknowledged as the legal parents and assume responsibility for the child." The marriage came apart in the midst of the pregnancy and the two divorced before the child was born. When the time came for Shepherd to sign the parental acknowledgment documents, she refused to do it.

With the court's decision, Shepherd will appear as the legal mother on the child's birth certificate and she will keep paying $4,100 a month in child support. She does not have to otherwise be part of his life, however.

Navigating the legal system to iron out child support and custody arrangements can be complicated, as this reflects. Working with experienced counsel is always recommended.

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