Actress and comedian Sherri Shepherd is no stranger to family court. Her two marriages have ended in divorce and two very different child custody battles.
An Unclaimed Baby by a Surrogate
Her second marriage to television writer Lamar Sally ended after three years in 2014. At the time they split, the couple had hired a surrogate to give birth for them to a child that would be Sally's genetic child but would have no genetic tie to Shepherd. The baby, a boy named LJ, was born in Pennsylvania in August 2014, a few months after the couple's divorce was final. Sally was at the hospital with the surrogate mother when LJ was born, but Shepherd was not.
Shepherd's name was entered on the baby's birth certificate and she petitioned the court to waive her parental rights—essentially saying that the baby was not hers and preventing Sally from being able to seek child support money from her. A district court judge and a three-judge Superior Court of Appeals panel disagreed in 2015, ordering Shepherd to pay alimony and child support to Sally for LJ.
A Custody Battle Over a Special Needs Child
Meanwhile, Shepherd was fighting with her first husband, Jeff Tarpley, for custody of the son they had together while they were married. Shepherd and Tarpley were married from 2001 until 2010 and, in 2005, they had a son together, Jeffrey Charles Tarpley. Their son was born premature and very underweight, with significant developmental disabilities.
Their son's condition improved and in 2014, while Shepherd was fighting with Sally and Pennsylvania courts to not be the mother of LJ, Tarpley took her to court to try and get custody of their son from her, saying that Shepherd was a horrible mother who neglected the 9-year-old boy. Tarpley said that their son was nearly illiterate, couldn't tie his shoes, and was being raised by unskilled nannies while Shepherd was laser-focused on her career.
Shepherd fired back that Tarpley was an absentee father who did not spend time with their son, and who had no job. The court took Shepherd's side that time and allowed her to remain the boy's custodial parent, though she and Tarpley have revisited their custody arrangements several times since.
Numerous Legal Issues Raised
Shepherd's legal issues are complex and confusing. She continues to fight to be the primary custodial parent to one son, while she has to be forced to acknowledge and provide for the other. The biggest difference between the two appears to be genetics and that Shepherd does not feel the same connection to the child she had with Sally via a surrogate.
The Pennsylvania Superior Court of Appeals finding that Shepherd is legally responsible for her child with Sally was hailed as a victory for surrogates, as it establishes that a parent need not have a genetic tie to a child to be held legally responsible. Meanwhile, Shepherd's custody battles with Tarpley over her first son—despite her star power—are not so unusual.
Regardless of whether your child custody situation is outside the norm, like Shepherd's with Sally, or more common, like Shepherd's with Tarpley, the Lento Law Firm can help. Call attorney Joseph D. Lento for help at 888-535-3686.