A historic settlement agreement was reached on Friday between Michael Kantaras, a transsexual father in Florida, and his former wife, whom he has been fighting in court for almost seven years to retain his parental rights to the former couple's two children. As part of the final settlement agreement, Michael will retain all of his parental rights and responsibilities and will continue to share legal custody of Matthew, 16, and Irina, 13.
This case first made national and international news in 2002, when Court TV aired the entire three-week trial live. Kantaras's former wife, Linda, knew he was transgender when they married, but when Michael filed for divorce, she attacked the validity of their 10-year marriage and Michael's status as a legal parent to the couple's two children based solely on Michael's transgender status. In February 2003 circuit court judge Gerard O'Brien issued a groundbreaking ruling declaring that based on the extensive medical evidence presented at trial, Michael was legally male, the marriage was legally valid, Michael was a legal parent, and that Michael was the better, more fit parent and should be awarded primary residential custody of the children. In July 2004, the court of appeals reversed O'Brien's ruling, voiding the former couple's marriage. The appeals court sent the case back to the trial court to determine Michael's parental rights and custody of the two children.
After hearing about the case, television celebrity Dr. Phil, who had been focusing on child custody issues all year, invited the couple to be on his show and encouraged them to mediate the case for the sake of the children. Linda, who had resisted efforts to resolve the case for years, finally agreed. Dr. Phil contacted Mediation Inc., a leading mediation firm out of Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., who agreed to send one of their top mediators, Michael Carbo, to mediate the case pro bono. After two all-day mediation sessions, the parties reached a settlement.
"Today, love, patience, and persistence, combined with a visionary judge and a little help from Dr. Phil, has led to this historic settlement agreement," said Karen Doering, regional counsel for the National Center for Lesbian Rights.