An Olympian Tale

skier, franky242 via freedigitalphotosdotnet

If you’ve been following the Winter Olympics, you’ve undoubtedly caught some of the backstories. Perhaps none is more compelling than that of Bode Miller, the heavily-decorated skier who, at age 36, is not only in the twilight of his career but in his free-spirited lifestyle (or so he says) that has led to a highly-publicized, bitter custody dispute.

Two years ago, Mr. Miller had a fling with Sara McKenna. She got pregnant, and he was the father, but they split before the baby was born. A former Marine and a firefighter, Ms. McKenna, who was 7 months pregnant, moved from California to New York where she planned to use the GI bill to fund her college education and have her baby. Meanwhile, Mr. Miller met and married a pro beach volleyball player.

Fast-forward to February 2014. A New York judge ruled that the California courts should decide who has custody; a California Appellate Court throws it back to New York. Meanwhile, Mr. Miller and Ms. McKenna can’t even agree on the child’s name: he calls the baby Nathanial after his recently-deceased brother, she calls him Samuel. Well, it’s complicated.

The personal drama aside, this court case raises a bigger issue: whether pregnant women should be legally obligated to live near the baby’s father. Like any bitter custody battle, the he-said she-said statements needed lawyers to sort it out. But in this case, even the courts seemed confused.

The Olympic-sized issues in this case are important to anyone with a child where either parent is thinking of relocating. The New York judge accused the pregnant mother of carrying the child with her to New York, allegedly to ‘forum shop’ or  gain a legal advantage, which the judge called ‘reprehensible.’ No matter what side of the pro-life, pro-choice debate you are on, it seems extreme to suggest that a pregnant woman can be held geographically captive – simply because she is pregnant.

It really does matter what the laws are in your ‘state of pregnancy,’ whether you are married or not. Some states let a custodial parent move out of state with a child or children relatively freely, while in others, you can find yourself embroiled in complex litigation regarding custody/removal. Often the best interests of a child get left at the courthouse door.

There’s another issue: when custody matters are at stake, it matters whom your former significant other is now involved with. The new love can have an incredible impact on not only a custody fight but the child’s custodial life. He or she can inflame or soothe the disputes, and be your biggest ally or your worst nightmare.

So far, Bode Miller is lucky on that account. His wife seems to support his desire to resolve the issue peaceably. When the couple returns from Sochi, Mr. Miller and Ms. McKenna will share custody, but it’s a short-term agreement and it’s likely that the custody battle will continue.

In an ideal world, both parents decide on the best interests of the child. When parents love a child, but don’t or can’t live near each other, there are no easy answers. Sadly, the courts must sometimes intervene.

Photo courtesy of franky242 via freedigitalphotos.net

Gemma_Allen

About Gemma Allen

Gemma Allen is a partner in Ladden & Allen, Chartered, and has practiced family law for most of her career. Ms. Allen has written more than 50 articles and lectured on topics that include divorce, child support, maintenance, mediation, cohabitation, women and money, and reconciliation. She co-authored The New Love Deal: Everything You Must Know Before Marrying, Moving In, or Moving On! and helps you navigate modern relationships in “Relationship Gems.”