A Miami-Dade circuit judge has approved a private adoption allowing three people a gay man and a married lesbian couple to be the legal parents of their 23-month-old daughter.
Were creating entirely new concepts of families. If you have two women seeking to be listed as Parent One and Parent Two, that does not exclude listing a man as father, said Miami family lawyer Karyn J. Begin, who represented dad Massimiliano Massimo Gerina in a two-year paternity case involving lesbian friends who had his baby.
Maria Italiano and Cher Filippazzo, who married in Connecticut, and their attorney, Kenneth Kaplan, declined to be interviewed.
The women, according to Begin, are longtime partners who unsuccessfully attempted to become pregnant through professional fertility clinics.
Instead of giving up, they decided to try again at home and approached Gerina about fathering a child.
They asked me, Gerina said. I was flattered by it. I thought what a great opportunity for me to have a baby.
A single Bay Harbor Islands hair stylist, Gerina explained why he desires children: Its nature the same reason a woman wants to be a mother.
Gerina grew up Cagliari, Italy, where he never thought he could become a father. Eight years ago, though, he moved to South Florida and encountered many gay parents raising children.
Its not unusual here. Where I am from its unusual. I grew up with the mentality that it would never happen, he said. When I moved here, I saw gay couples, lesbian couples having families.
On only a verbal agreement, Gerina gave the women his sperm and Italiano conceived. The lesbians planned for Filippazzo to later adopt the baby and they would both raise the child.
Florida law specifies that sperm donors have no legal rights in artificial inseminations. Thus the hitch: Gerina says he considered himself a parent, not simply a donor. The women, he claimed, wanted a father for the baby, not just the sperm.
Two weeks after insemination, Italiano learned she was pregnant. About seven months later, the women called Gerina and asked him to sign a contract.
When they gave me the paper to sign that I had to give up all my rights to the baby, I didnt, he said.
Gerina began to ponder the legal consequences of siring a child. He hired Begin and presented the women with papers of his own.
My papers said I would have parental rights, a visitation schedule, he said. They hated it. They said this wasnt what they wanted. I said, Now that youre already pregnant, you should have thought about that before.
Their daughter, Emma, was born March 10, 2011. The paternity lawsuit was filed right after the birth of the child, Begin said.
The three parents feuded in court for nearly two years. A trial was set for Jan. 31, 2013.
A week before trial, Gerina, Italiano, Filippazzo and their attorneys settled the case privately.
Before posing for photos with the three parents and Emma, Miami-Dade Circuit Court Judge Antonio Marin approved the settlement and the court adoption clerk submitted paperwork for Emmas new birth certificate:
Birth mother Italiano, a retail saleswoman, received sole parental responsibility, Begin said.
Filippazzo, a financial services professional, legally adopted Emma.
The state recognized Gerina as Emmas father and he was granted time with her. For the next two years, he can visit Emma twice a week; after she turns 4, overnight visits will be discussed.
The mothers are in charge. Im just going to spend time with her. They are the parents, Gerina said.
Along with having all decision-making responsibilities, the mothers will support Emma.
Begin wont say exactly how much the three parents spent on legal fees. All of the parties involved in this could have funded this little girls college tuition, and paid their attorneys instead, she said. One-tenth of that would have been what it cost to handle this properly.
Miami Beach attorney Elizabeth Schwartz, who specializes in alternative families, said all this expense and family drama could have been avoided if the prospective parents had hired lawyers from the very start.
This messy situation is too common, these undefined relationships where youre leaving it up to a judge to decide whether hes a donor or a father, Schwartz said. Ideally, you would have created a legal document that would define everyones parental rights and clearly articulate the nature of everyones relationship to the child. They can have all the conversations they want, but once that little child is born, all bets are off.
Begin agrees. All parties should go to an attorney versed in this area of law, because it is a unique area of law. Make sure its reduced to a written agreement with all the formalities, she said. Please dont pull things off the Internet and play your own attorney. And just because a document is legally produced in one state, doesnt mean that its legally valid in Florida.
Gerina said he and the other parents have learned their lesson. Good thing. They already are talking about giving Emma a baby brother or sister.
Next time, Begin warned the three, work out the details before anyone gets pregnant.
God forbid you dont put together a written agreement, she told them, Ill knock on your door and slap you all.