Sherri Shepherd's Custody Battle over Surrogate Son She Has No Genetic Connection To

Actress and comedian Sherri Shepherd has had her fair share of legal battles and failed marriages with her former husbands, Jeff Tarpley and Lamar Sally. Shepherd is anything but lucky with love.

On December 26, 2010, Television writer Lamar Sally dropped to one knee and proposed to the actress. In August the following year, they walked down the aisle to become husband and wife.

It was a sweet marriage. Shepherd was happy, Sally was delighted, and everybody else was happy for them. But, like in some marriages, a lot of unhappy moments started to creep in.

Sherri Shepherd attends Multicultural Media Correspondents' Dinner at National Press Club on July 09, 2019. | Photo: Getty Images

Sherri Shepherd attends Multicultural Media Correspondents' Dinner at National Press Club on July 09, 2019. | Photo: Getty Images

In September 2012, a year after their nuptials, the actress revealed that she and Sally, her second husband, were searching for the perfect surrogate to have their child.

They soon found a surrogate who would help them realize their dream. Some months into the pregnancy, in May 2014, it was reported that Shepherd divorced Sally.

It was only months after the news was released that Shepherd came forward to open up about her second failed marriage.

Sherri Shepherd and Lamar Sally at Clyde Frazier's Wine and Dine on September 12, 2013 | Photo: Getty Images

Sherri Shepherd and Lamar Sally at Clyde Frazier's Wine and Dine on September 12, 2013 | Photo: Getty Images

She told People that she decided to proceed with the surrogacy even though she knew her marriage was crumbling by the hour.

Shepherd admitted that her reluctance to clearly state her internal conflictions to her former husband for fear of him walking away was what backfired. 

The legal back-and-forth of the divorce proceedings began to take its toll on Shepherd, who shared that the experience was too public and "very painful."


By July, the former husband and wife were already battling it out in court for the custody of their child, who at the time wasn't born yet. On August 5, 2014, their son, LJ, was born in Pennsylvania.

According to E! News, Sally was at the hospital to witness his son's arrival while Shepherd was nowhere to be found.

In a People exclusive, Sally narrated the story from his point of view, explaining how things went downhill with regard to the child. 

He revealed that he and his former wife found out that her eggs were not viable and agreed to have a baby via a surrogate. Sally also expressed his concern for her ability to take care of the child. After all, she had been absent for his birth. Sally said:

"She never said she didn't want the baby, but I think it's the worst thing in the world for L.J to look at his birth certificate at 16, and see it says 'Mother unknown.'"

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Happy Birthday to meee♥️

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Before the little one's birth, his actress mother filed a petition in Los Angeles, asking the court to waive her rights and responsibilities as a parent. 

This meant that her ex-husband would not be entitled to child support payments from her. However, Shepherd lost the court appeal to Sally and was declared LJ's legal mother even though she tried to get out of the surrogacy contract.


Before the dust settled on her legal battle with Sally, Shepherd's past came back to haunt her. Sherri Shepherd's first ex-husband, Jeff Tarpley, was stirring up another messy legal custody appeal for their then-nine-year-old son.

Shepherd tied the knot with Tarpley in 2001, and the two were blissfully married until they fell out and went their separate ways after nearly a decade in 2010.

Sherri Shepherd's son, Jeffrey Charles Tarpley, was born in 2005 and was diagnosed with developmental delays that left him with special needs.

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On April 22, 2005 God gave me the best Birthday gift... my son Jeffrey♥️. Born prematurely at 25 weeks weighing 1lb 10oz... despite all the negative prognosis, my son fought to live. Doctors said Jeffrey would be paralyzed, unable to speak and a host of mental challenges. But God said different. 14 years later Jeffrey still can bring me to tears at what he can do. I still have no clue what I am doing and how to raise this boy but I know I love him with all my heart. Happy Birthday Jeffrey. I pray that God protect you, guide you and put people (including your girlfriends & wife) who love HIM and love you. I pray HE give you wisdom and compassion and bless you to be an independent man who can take care of yourself in this world. I pray prosperity over your life and Lord thank you so much for loving me enough to give me Jeffrey. You are my heartbeat and you are my life. Happy 14th Birthday. I love you♥️. Mommy a/k/a “Mom”😢 (Just this post took me 2 hours going through 10,725 pics and videos. I am going back to sleep!♥️😂) #love #happybirthday #jeffrey #teenager #lovemyson #wheredidthetimego #bornwithapurpose #butgod

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Jeffrey got better, and years after the miraculous success with his condition, Tarpley accused his former wife of being a bad mother and neglecting their son. According to him, his son was nearly illiterate and could not even tie his shoelaces.

The poor boy was allegedly left on his own while his mother focused solely on her career as a superstar. In 2011, the actress was awarded primary custody of their son, Jeffrey, after which she relocated him to New York, where she was co-hosting "The View." 

Shepherd concluded that she would never stop working hard to get her life and her once-bubbling career back on track.

Tarpley's goal seemed to be to fight his ex-wife for custody of his son. He made his move and asked the court for 50/50 custody of Jeffrey.

He demanded that her child support fees were raised asked that she foot $10,000 in attorney fees since her income was much higher than his. In an interview with ET, Tarpley's lawyer Duane Folke spoke in detail about his client's motivation to "rescue his son." Folke said:

"Whether he sees a dime from her or not, the idea is that he wants to be the primary custodial caretaker of his kid."

Folke and his client believed that the boy's father could do a better job for the nine-year-old who couldn't tie his shoes and had issues with his hygiene, among many other complaints.

Shepherd fired back with a concise response, stating that she offered to give her ex time with their son on weekends with an overnight stay each week. Tarpley had apparently ignored the offer. 

The no-doubt exhausted mom also revealed that Tarpley had never been interested or involved in Jeffrey's day-to-day living. Moreover, he did not even have a job or the means to take care of the boy.

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Feeling the braids today!

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The court saw reason with Shepherd's side of the story, and she was allowed to retain primary custody of the young boy.

What was, perhaps, most intriguing about the long and tedious back-and-forth was the fact that Tarpley and Sally were reportedly very good friends who went to court to face their ex as a bold unit.

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I never thought when I made the commitment to my son Jeffrey to get my health together and get off #sugar that an opportunity of posing for @swimsuitsforall would happen. From the moment I got on the #beach @supermodelemme @ashleygraham & @taralynn hugged me and made me feel like a #supermodel. This #photoshoot was truly a dream come true and to you ladies over 40... please remember nothing is impossible if you focus and commit to the work♥️ God has not forgotten you. He sees those desires and dreams you have hidden deep in your #heart . I hope my #journey inspires you to commit to your health and face those #fears #joy #swimsuits #jesus #dreamsdocometrue #pinchme #bestphotoshoot #bestdayever (#hair @jstayready_ thanks Jay for making me so pretty ♥️ @ shout out to @blackketogirl for getting me swimsuit ready ) #lovetheskinyourin #stepoutofyourcomfortzone

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When her former spouses were not trying to leech off all her money, Shepherd started relaxing into her life with her son, Jeffrey, and tried to follow up on the less-than-welcome child support fees she was paying.

Before Shepherd's world descended into chaos, she was a co-host on ABC's talk show, "The View," alongside Joy Behar, Barbara Walters, Whoopi Goldberg, and Jenny McCarthy. For Sherri Shepherd, "The View" was not the place to be as her private affairs escalated.

Raising a kid all alone while having to deal with child support has not been easy for Shepherd. The actress took to Instagram to lament about the woes of being a single mom to her boy while shelling out thousands of dollars in child support every month. She wrote:

"So much transition in my life I feel like my head is spinning….a lot of no's being thrown my way... being told I am a "tough sell"... raising my very moody teenage son by myself."

She concluded that she would never stop working hard to get her life and her once-bubbling career back on track. She's enjoying being the mother to her "moody teenager" who she complains is being a typical teenager by ignoring her. Regardless, Shepherd is certain that she's going to turn out okay.

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