Bode Miller’s child custody battle and the effect on pregnant women in the U.S.

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Bode Miller’s child custody battle and the effect on pregnant women in the U.S.

Bode Miller, Olympic winner of the bronze medal in the super-G event, has had his share of hardships and mishaps in the last year – the sudden death of his brother, recovering from knee surgery, and a custody battle over his infant son.

His tears were heartfelt; his performance admirable; but the custody battle is a little different. The baby’s mother, Sara McKenna, raised the question of whether pregnant women should be legally forced to live near their unborn child’s father.

The story: McKenna, a former Marine, gets pregnant in California and decides to move to New York to attend Columbia University on the G. I. Bill. After she moves there and before the baby is born she gets “slammed” by a New York judge for “her appropriation of the child while in utero,” which the judge calls “irresponsible” and “reprehensible.” The custody case was ordered back to a California court. The bottom line, McKenna, had been penalized for moving away from her child’s father while still pregnant.

In the meantime, the father, Bode Miller, moved on to a relationship with a pro beach volleyball player whom he later married. Sara gives birth in February 2013 to a son.

The initial ruling treated a fetus as a child, for purposes of a custody battle, and by so doing threatened to limit the rights of a pregnant woman to move and travel. A brief was filed in support of McKenna by a coalition of advocacy groups that contended the judge’s order “created a government mechanism that would permit both states and putative fathers-to-be to exert unjustified control over the location and life plans of pregnant women in a manner not reciprocated with respect to the expectant fathers.”

A New York appeals court overturned the initial judicial order between McKenna, 27, and Miller, 36, and the case was returned to New York, but not before the child was put in Miller’s custody for a period. After more court proceedings, the baby was back with McKenna. ESPN reports that after the Olympics, Miller and McKenna will share custody through a short-term agreement.

However, the case isn’t over with a series of legal challenges pending, but for now the “pregnant-woman-moving question” seems to be answered. Emotionally, the debate goes on: “Should a pregnant woman’s desire to relocate trump an expectant father’s desire to live near his child?”

The sad result is the child in the center, “How do you decide how often a child should be in New York with his mother or in California with his father?”

At Stange Law Firm, PC, we represent both fathers and mothers in upholding the law of doing what is in the best interest of the child. If you are facing a family law issue, you may call to schedule a confidential half-hour consultation with one of our Missouri, Illinois, Kansas and Oklahoma divorce lawyers at 855-805-0595 or visit us online.

Source: A Woman’s Right to Move, Emily Bazelon, Slate, Feb. 17, 2014

Bode Miller’s Custody Case: What It Means for Pregnant Women Everywhere, Alice Gomstyn, The Daily Babble, February 17, 2014

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