You may recall that just before Thanksgiving I blogged about a custody dispute between Bode Miller (famous US skier) and Sara McKenna. They had a brief relationship during which she became pregnant. Since there really wasn’t much of a relationship between the two, it’s probably not surprising that a custody fight followed. But the particular course of the custody fight was somewhat remarkable. (I’ll just link to the first of a string of earlier posts so that you can catch up if you want.)
The key thing was that one judge in NY seemed to think that McKenna had behaved badly because after she and Miller broke up and after she realized she was pregnant, she moved to NYC to take advantage of an educational program at Columbia University. The decision, originally made in the spring, lead that judge to kick the custody case back to CA, where a judge awarded custody to Miller–I’m not sure on what basis. Eventually a NY appeals court reversed the trial court in a scathing opinion–essentially recognizing that McKenna did have a right to travel even if she was pregnant. And after that the custody case has proceeded in NY. (It was only in the latter stages–after the appellate reversal–that the case caught the public eye, but then boy did it ever.)
Anyway, McKenna was given temporary custody until December 9. (I wondered if part of the reason for that was that Miller had a number of races in the past few weeks and so much be out and about a bit.) And another court date was scheduled. I’d been meaning to check in on what happened. And now I know.
What happened was the case settled. I cannot find any details–apart from the fact that Miller will be allowed to take the child to the Winter Olympics in February. The current arrangement will remain until they have time to work out a permanent custody plan.
Now even without knowing any of the details I have little doubt that this is all best for the child. Being the subject of a parental tug-of-war is never good for a kid. So no matter what the details, the fact that the parents have agreed here seems to me to be a good thing for this child. And truly, I do not need to know the details.
But that said, you can see that this leaves the law hanging just a bit. We’ve got an appellate court decision that said something important–that McKenna had the right to travel while pregnant and that it cannot be held against her. But that ruling will not be subject to any further scrutiny. It won’t be reviewed by a higher court, which means it won’t have a chance to become a precedent with more far-reaching effect.
I note this only because it is so often the way that family law around parentage and kids works. It is quite typically better for the parties to settle the dispute. Whatever the settlement, if it is agreeable to both parties it will probably work better for the kids. Cases like the de facto cases I blogged about in the last few weeks only arise when the parties refuse to compromise. If they reached an agreement, the case would be over and no opinion would result.
What that means is that in cases like those de facto cases, the parties have been unable to compromise–unable to come to any kind of agreement. I think this is in part because at the outset the legal parent holds such a strong advantage over the person who does not have legal recognition as a parent that compromise seems unnecessary. And while a non-legal parent might settle for something less than full parentage, the legal parent has no real reason to offer much early on.
But it also means that I wonder about how the de facto cases play out once the courts are done. I mean, for future cases people might relate to negotiation and settlement differently. But for the cases that yield the opinions? Will the parties–who have been unable to compromise–be able to raise a child together? I do wonder. And I don’t know.
All of which is to say that even if the Miller/McKenna settlement deprives us of further legal developments, I’m glad for the sake of the child.