In the Matter of Baby M – 109 N.J. 396 (1988)

Case Name: In the Matter of Baby M
Citation: 109 N.J. 396; 537 A.2d 1227; 1988

Issue: Whether the plaintiff could enforce a surrogacy contract which terminated the parental rights of the defendant mother and awarded sole custody to plaintiff father.

Procedural History: Defendant surrogate mother challenged the order of the Superior Court (New Jersey) that enforced the terms of a surrogate parent contract on behalf of plaintiff father. Defendant claimed that the surrogacy contract was invalid; that the trial court improperly terminated her parental rights and awarded sole custody to plaintiff father, and improperly allowed the adoption of the child by plaintiff’s wife, all pursuant to the terms of the contract.

Key Facts: On direct certification from the trial court, the court reversed the order that terminated defendant surrogate mother’s parental rights, restored her as the mother of the child, and invalidated the surrogacy contract entered into between plaintiff father and defendant. The court ruled that the contract was invalid as a matter of law, because it violated statute and was against public policy. The court found that private placement adoption was disfavored, that the payment of money made the contract illegal and possibly criminal under N.J. Stat. Ann. 9:3-54, and that it was vested with an element of coercion. The court ruled that the agreement was totally unenforceable. The court determined that the statute required a surrender of the child to a public agency and then a termination proceeding, which could only proceed after counseling. The court held that the termination of defendant’s parental rights called for by the surrogacy contract and ordered by the trial court, failed to comply with statutory requirements. The court ruled that no one can contractually abandon one’s parental rights. The court held that because the termination was invalid, the adoption was invalid.

Holding: The court invalidated the surrogacy contract because it conflicted with the law and public policy of the state.

Judgment: The court granted custody to plaintiff father, voided both the termination of the surrogate mother’s parental rights and the adoption of the child by plaintiff’s wife, and restored defendant surrogate mother as the mother of the child. The court remanded the case on the issue of visitation only.