A Dangerous Ruling in the Bode Miller-Sara McKenna Child Custody Battle Takes Fathers' Rights Way Too Far

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Feb. 17 2014 9:00 AM

A Woman’s Right to Move

Sara McKenna was pregnant with Bode Miller’s baby when she moved to New York. A court called that “reprehensible.” What a dangerous ruling for women—and a step too far for fathers’ rights.

Bode Miller, U.S. alpine World Cup ski racer, watches the men's World Cup downhill ski race with his wife Morgan Beck in Beaver Creek, Colorado November 30, 2012.
Bode Miller, U.S. alpine World Cup ski racer, watches the men's World Cup downhill race with his wife, Morgan Beck, in Beaver Creek, Colo., on Nov. 30, 2012.

Photo by Rick Wilking/Reuters

Bode Miller won a joint bronze medal in Alpine skiing Super-G yesterday. In November, Emily Bazelon wrote about his complicated child custody battle with Sara McKenna. The article is reprinted below.

Emily Bazelon Emily Bazelon

Emily Bazelon is a staff writer at the New York Times Magazine and the author of Sticks and Stones

Here’s one I haven’t heard before: A woman gets pregnant in California by a famous athlete she is casually dating, decides to go to college in New York—tuition paid by the G.I. Bill—and after she moves there, before the baby is born, gets blasted by a New York judge for “her appropriation of the child while in utero,” which the judge calls “irresponsible” and “reprehensible.”

I understand that fathers have rights, and I’m all for that. But this ruling took those rights way too far, to the point of dangerousness. It treated a fetus as a child, for purposes of a custody battle. And in doing so, it threatened to limit the rights of a pregnant woman to move and travel.

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A New York appeals court has already overturned the ridiculous initial judicial order in this fight between Sara McKenna, 27, a former Marine and firefighter now attending Columbia University, and Bode Miller, 36, an Olympic skier. But the case isn’t over, and it’s the latest fascinating entry in a series of legal challenges by fathers to traditional assumptions about parental rights and child custody. The old legal problem for single mothers was deadbeat dads. The new one is fathers who are so eager to assert themselves that they run roughshod over women’s rights. As the adults clash, sometimes it even becomes hard to consider the child at the center.

McKenna and Miller met through an online dating service in April 2012, and she got pregnant in late May, before their brief relationship ended. In June, Miller told McKenna he wouldn’t come with her to an ultrasound because “U made this choice against my wish,” according to a text she released from him. She texted him in October, “Just a heads up, I met with an advisor from Columbia today and we will probably be moving there in the fall.”

That same month, Miller married someone else (Morgan Beck, a beach volleyball star and model, if you must know). And in November 2012, he filed a “Petition to Establish Parental Relationship” in California, checking the box on the form to say he was the father of “a child who is not yet born” and another box to begin a custody proceeding for a “child [who] resides or is found in this county.”

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