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Tennessee surrogate mother in custody dispute over unborn child

Many residents of Clarksville, Tennessee, would agree that a woman becomes a mother the moment she learns that she is going to have a baby. But some mothers keep their emotions under control and lend their wombs to childless couples so that they too can experience the joy of parenthood. They conceive the child through artificial insemination. After birth, the child is adopted by other parents. One such surrogate mother from Tennessee recently grabbed national media attention.

According to reports, a woman from Tennessee, with agreement from her husband, agreed to be a surrogate mother for an Italian couple in 2010. It was decided that the Italian couple would pay for the surrogate mother’s pain and suffering, legal expenses, medical bills, lost wages and transportation costs. Reports indicate that the surrogate mother received $73,000 from the Italian couple.

In November 2011, the Italian couple and the Tennessee woman and her husband jointly filed a petition that requested the surrogacy agreement to be ratified. After a month, a juvenile court in Nashville awarded child custody of the unborn child to the Italian father and terminated the parental rights of the surrogate mother. However, almost immediately after the child’s birth, the surrogate mother filed a petition to regain custody. The juvenile court denied her request and the Court of Appeals upheld that decision.

Once the case was heard in Tennessee Supreme Court, the judge ruled that a surrogate mother’s parental rights cannot be terminated before a child is born, according to state laws. The mother can decide to put her child up for adoption after birth and have parental rights terminated. However, in a case such as this, a court must establish that the presence of the mother in the child’s life would have detrimental effects before terminating her parental rights.

The child will continue to be with the Italian father but the Supreme Court directed the juvenile court to determine issues that pertain to visitation rights and child support for the surrogate mother. The Tennessee Supreme Court pointed out that surrogacy laws in the state are ambiguous on various grounds and, therefore, urged the General Assembly to take corrective action so that legal complexities and custody disputes do not hamper a child’s best interests.

Source:, “State Supreme Court: Lower court wrong to terminate surrogate mom’s rights before baby’s birth,” Travis Loller, Sept. 19, 2014


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