When Anthony and Shawn Raftopol, a gay married couple from Massachusetts, hired a Connecticut surrogate to give birth to their child, they didn't expect to figure in a landmark ruling by the Connecticut Supreme Court.
But that's what happened after the surrogate gave birth to twins, and the state Department of Health refused to issue a birth certificate bearing both men's names as the legal parents. Instead Shawn, who had no biological connection to the twin boys, was told by the agency that would have to go through a second parent adoption to be listed on the birth certificate.
That is until Fairfield lawyer Victoria Ferrara took up the case. And, after the court ruled in favor of the men's challenge, if two partners have a valid surrogacy agreement here in Connecticut, they now can legally have both names put on the birth certificate. That establishes both as the legal parents prior to the child's birth.
"It's not really a gay-rights law," Ferrara said during a recent interview in her Post Road offices. "It's an important ruling for straight couples as well."
In this case, Ferrara said the lower court ruled in favor of the Raftopols. "The state asserted the only way (for both to be named parents) was through the adoption process and appealed the ruling," she said. It never made it to the state Appellate Court, however, because the Connecticut Supreme Court decided it would hear the case.
The Supreme Court started questioning why the Department of Health had refused to put Shawn Raftopol's name on the birth certificate, Ferrara said, something it had been doing as a matter of course until about four years ago. "That's when they started to object, and I'm not really sure why," Ferrara said. "I was surprised because it didn't make sense to me"
The Raftopols had used the same surrogate for their daughter Zoe, born in 2006, and the health agency did not contest that birth certificate.
"It's really the first time the state Supreme Court ruled so clearly on a matter," Ferrara said. "This court established a fourth way to create legal parentage."
It was important for the Raftopols, she said, because Anthony is an international lawyer and the couple travels all over the globe.
Until the court ruling, Shawn Raftopol, the primary caretaker for the couple's three children, had to travel with a thick file folder of documents to prove he was not kidnapping the children. They are currently out of the country and unavailable to comment.
Ferrara said the health department's initial stance was at odds with what was happening here and elsewhere. "We have people all the time using egg donors and sperm donors; that happens all the time without any of us knowing," she said.
Now that the Supreme Court has ruled, the Department of Health "has given an indication they accept the ruling" and couples with a valid surrogacy can get a court order listing both as legal parents without naming the state as a defendant. "They'll honor them," she said.
Surrogacy issues are a big part of Ferrara's law practice, in which she does family law and her associate practices personal injury and real estate law. "I happen to be gay and I have two children with my partner," she said. "I always have done a lot of gay-related work which led me into the area of surrogacy."
A graduate of Fairfield University and St. John's University School of Law, Ferrara said she has been retained by couples all over the world, both gay and straight.
Ferrara, who has been practicing law in both Connecticut and New York for 25 years, also runs a business, Worldwide Surrogacy, which matches parents and surrogates.
She said it's crucial in any assisted reproduction situation to have the right process in place, and her firm does all the contract work necessary, from egg and sperm donor contracts to gestational surrogate contracts. "It's just fascinating," she said. "It's like a piece of the puzzle to get the two intended parents to be on the birth certificate and become the legal parents."
And there's another reason Ferrara, a Fairfield resident, enjoys her job.
"I really do love the work," she said, "because it has to do with people having children. I see it as an antidote to my divorce work."