Family Law

Olympic skier's custody case becomes battle on rights of pregnant women to relocate


Bode Miller. Joe Seer /

A custody battle between an Olympic skier and his one-time girlfriend has attracted notice from women’s rights activists who say the case is about the rights of pregnant women to relocate and make decisions about their future.

The New York Times and the New York Law Journal report on the case and a Nov. 14 ruling (PDF) by a New York appeals court on behalf of the mom and her right to relocate while pregnant.

Ski star Bode Miller and Sara McKenna dated less than two months in California last year after meeting through a high-end matchmaking service, the Times says. A former Marine and firefighter, McKenna moved to New York in December when she was seven months pregnant to attend Columbia University. By that time, Miller had married a beach volleyball star he began dating at the time McKenna became pregnant.

Miller had filed a declaration of his paternity and interest in custody in San Diego before the baby was born. After the birth of the boy in February—Miller calls him Nate and McKenna calls him Sam—McKenna filed for custody in New York.

But a family court referee ruled in May that McKenna engaged in “unjustifiable conduct” by moving to New York, and “her appropriation of the child while in utero” was “reprehensible.” A California court then gave physical custody to Miller.

On Nov. 14, New York’s Appellate Division, First Department, ruled that McKenna did nothing wrong by moving. “We reject the referee’s apparent suggestion that, prior to her relocation, the mother needed to somehow arrange her relocation with the father with whom she had only a brief romantic relationship,” the appeals court said. “Putative fathers have neither the right nor the ability to restrict a pregnant woman from her constitutionally protected liberty.”

The court also ruled that New York was the child’s home state and its courts had jurisdiction.

Updated at 9:31 a.m. to rewrite the headline.

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