Mamas vs. Papas: Two gay couples fight over custody of child

Two dads face off against two moms. It's perhaps the most unique custody battle in recent Florida history and maybe the most radical verdict. Katherine Alicea and her eight-year partner, Ana Sobrino, decided to have a baby about a half-decade ago. Again and again, they tried using sperm from anonymous donors. But Katherine — a driven real estate agent then in her late 30s — couldn't get pregnant.

Enter their close friend, Ray Janssen, a handsome, gay Air Force veteran.

After some casual negotiation, he donated and Katherine conceived. In August 2006, a sweet and burbling baby whom we'll call Austin was born. Katherine put Ray's name on the birth certificate because she wanted the child to know his dad's identity.

That was a big mistake.

The baby was raised mostly by Katherine and Ana at their Miami Shores home, a block from Biscayne Bay. But Ray and his partner Craig also spent time with the boy. "[Ray] made it clear he wanted to be involved in the child's life," psychologist Sherrie Lewis-Thomas later wrote. He took Austin to baby music lessons. Sometimes the child would sleep over at his "da-da's" Miami Beach apartment overlooking a canal.

Then, last fall, the mothers moved to California, and things got ugly.

Ray sued Katherine in November 2008. The case tells the story of two sets of gay parents — all of them loving and active in the child's life — vying for custody. "Responsibility for the child should be awarded to the mother and father equally," Ray demanded in the suit. "[I am] the natural father."

After considering arguments from both sides, Miami-Dade Circuit Court Judge Leon Firtel on June 3 found Ray was nothing more than a sperm donor. Because there was no contract before birth, he had "no rights."

Says Ray's attorney, Gerald Kornreich: "[The ruling] is the most tragic of my career, and I will not rest until Ray is reunited with his son."

Opposing council Hugo Acebo responds that Ray surrendered his role when he let the mothers become primary caregivers: "Ray has changed his mind about his parental role... Katherine and Ana feel like their family unit is being attacked."

A motion for reconsideration is scheduled in circuit court this week.

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Natalie O'Neill
Contact: Natalie O'Neill