Ruling in April on baby tussle between gay couple, surrogate mum

Mr Lake with his daughter, Carmen, whom he and his partner have been caring for since she was born.
Mr Lake with his daughter, Carmen, whom he and his partner have been caring for since she was born.PHOTO COURTESY OF GORDON LAKE

A Thai court is set to rule next month on the case of a toddler in the middle of a tussle between her surrogate mother and a gay foreign couple.

The custody battle for Carmen, who was born to a Thai woman via a commercial surrogacy arrangement last year, is a lingering reminder of the previously unregulated industry now reined in by a new law forbidding the trade.

Carmen is the biological child of American national Gordon Lake and an anonymous egg donor.

Mr Lake and his Spanish husband, Mr Manuel Santos, both 41, hired Ms Patidta Kusolsang to carry the child to full term two years ago.

However, when Carmen was born, Ms Patidta refused to cede parental rights to the couple, sparking a bruising custody battle that was played out before local and international media.

"Our lives have been completely on hold," Mr Lake, who works as an assistant marketing director, told The Straits Times yesterday after the hearing ended.

Ms Patidta, he said, had come close to ceding parental rights a few times, and the letdowns have been "excruciating".

"In the end they will take into consideration what's in Carmen's best interests," Mr Lake said of the court.

Hundreds of foreigners flocked to Thailand for rent-a-womb services until 2014, when surrogacy-related scandals prompted the government to clamp down and eventually outlaw the trade.

Under the previous rules, however, a woman who gave birth to a child was considered its legal mother.

Hence, even though Carmen's birth certificate names Mr Lake as her father, she cannot be taken out of Thailand until Ms Patidta gives up her parental rights.

Ms Patidta, who gave her testimony at the Central Juvenile and Family Court in Bangkok yesterday, left the courtroom through a back exit.

She had earlier told The Straits Times through her legal adviser that she did not know, until after Carmen was born, that the couple who hired her were gay, and that she suspected the couple were human traffickers.

The two men, who have cared for Carmen since her birth, are claiming custody based on a provision under a new law allowing biological parents to seek parental rights.

The couple have another child, Alvaro, who is two years old and being cared for by Mr Santos' sister in Spain.

Mr Santos owns a media company, which he says is faltering because of his absence. They are also behind on payments to their law firm, they said.

The couple, however, said they were grateful to the Thais who have flooded them with donations of baby supplies and other kinds of aid since their case was made public.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 31, 2016, with the headline 'Ruling in April on baby tussle between gay couple, surrogate mum'. Print Edition | Subscribe