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In the Matter of Baby M

New Jersey Supreme Court's Opinion

The Supreme Court of New Jersey overturned the lower court's ruling on 2 February 1988. It invalidated the surrogacy contract, annulled Betsy Stern's adoption of Baby M, and restored the parental rights of Mary Beth Whitehead. Writing for a unanimous court, Chief Justice Wilentz said:

We do not know of, and cannot conceive of, any other case where a perfectly fit mother was expected to surrender her newly born infant, perhaps forever, and was then told she was a bad mother because she did not.

The justices then dealt with the issue as a difference between "the natural father and the natural mother, [both of whose claims] are entitled to equal weight." Custody was awarded to William Stern and the trial court was instructed to set visitation for Mary Beth Whitehead.

The court awarded Whitehead visitation on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; every other weekend; and two weeks during the summer. (Holidays were also divided: the Sterns were entitled to Melissa's company on her birthday, Christmas Day, and Mother's Day, among other occasions.) Since Melissa is now in school during the week, and the Sterns live in New Jersey and Whitehead on Long Island, Whitehead reports that these circumstances have made it increasingly difficult for her to comply with the court-imposed schedule for visits with her daughter. In a recent interview, she said she would seek either a revision of the agreement's terms or move the rest of her family closer to Melissa's other home in New Jersey.

The New Jersey Supreme Court decision prohibited additional surrogacy arrangements in that state unless "the surrogate mother volunteers, without any payment, to act as a surrogate and is given the right to change her mind and to assert her parental rights." Seventeen other states have since adopted similar guidelines.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1981 to 1988In the Matter of Baby M - Significance, The Trial Begins, "by These Standards, We Are All Unfit Mothers", New Jersey Supreme Court's Opinion