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.