NEWARK, N.J., AUG. 4 -- Surrogate mother Mary Beth Whitehead, citing the stress of losing her custody battle for the child she bore under contract for another couple, has separated from her husband, her attorney said today.

The lawyer, Harold Cassidy, said in a prepared statement that the couple has no immediate intention of reuniting.

"Mrs. Whitehead believes that the extraordinary stress placed upon her marriage and the public discussion of private matters rendered Mr. and Mrs. Whitehead's marriage an inevitable casualty of this unusual case," Cassidy said.

Cassidy and other attorneys were not immediately available to comment on whether the separation would affect appeals pending in the custody case.

Mary Beth Whitehead, 30, was stripped of her parental rights in March when a state judge upheld her contract with William and Elizabeth Stern to conceive a child by artificial insemination with William Stern's sperm. She changed her mind after the child was born and never accepted the $10,000 fee.

She fled to Florida, where she remained until authorities tracked her down and returned the baby, called Elizabeth by the Whiteheads and Melissa by the Sterns, to the Sterns.

Her decision to back out of the deal led to the landmark custody suit filed and won by the Sterns. During the trial, Mary Beth Whitehead argued that she and her husband, Richard, could offer a stable and loving home.

Whitehead appealed and the state Supreme Court agreed to hear the case directly. Oral arguments are set for Sept. 14. Meanwhile, the surrogate mother has been allowed to visit with the girl for one hour each week.

The Whiteheads married in 1973 and have two children.

During the trial, the Sterns' attorneys portrayed Richard Whitehead as a frequently unemployed sanitation worker with a drinking problem. His wife was characterized as an impulsive and narcissistic woman who is overly possessive toward her children.

The marriage was described by the Sterns' attorneys as troubled, punctured by other separations and economic difficulties. However, the Whiteheads maintained that they could provide an extended family in which the baby could have siblings and caring relatives.

Their main contention, however, was that the mother-child bond should not be broken.