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 Emma’s 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 Emma’s 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 visitations will be discussed. All visits must be pre-arranged and at the mothers' discretion.
“The mothers are in charge. I’m 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 won’t say exactly how much the three parents spent on legal fees. “All of the parties involved in this could have funded this little girl’s 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 you’re leaving it up to a judge to decide whether he’s a donor or a father,” Schwartz said. “Ideally, you would have created a legal document that would define everyone’s parental rights and clearly articulate the nature of everyone’s 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 it’s reduced to a written agreement with all the formalities,” she said. “Please don’t pull things off the Internet and play your own attorney. And just because a document is legally produced in one state, doesn’t mean that it’s 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 don’t put together a written agreement,” she told them, “I’ll knock on your door and slap you all.”