Waldlaw Blog

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving from Waldlaw

Just a quick note to wish my readers a belated Happy Thanksgiving!  I have been trying to soak in the peace and quiet after a very hectic November, and hope you all also are enjoying the opportunity to relax with loved ones over this long holiday weekend. 

And, for all my Jewish friends and family members, a Happy Hanukkah to boot!

2013 has been a fascinating year from a family law perspective.  I will take time in December to digest what I see as the top stories of this calendar year.  In the meantime, best wishes to you and yours as we dive into the holiday season.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Miller-McKenna Custody Battle and the Rights of Pregnant Women

My dear friend Maggie Geddes, employment lawyer extraordinaire, sent me a note this morning about an article she saw in today's New York Times.  Although I had not previously been aware of the Miller-McKenna case discussed in the article, it fits right into an area of family law in which I have been taking an interest for some time: the special issues that come with unintended procreation by people who have no commitment to each other.  I recently wrote an article on this topic for the AFCC-CA Newsletter.

In the Miller-McKenna case, a single woman (McKenna) and a single man (Miller) met through a professional matchmaking service.  They only dated for a few months, but McKenna ended up pregnant.  A former marine and active firefighter, McKenna made the decision while pregnant to relocate from California to New York to pursue her education at Columbia University. 

Finding that McKenna had "absconded" with the fetus, a New York trial court transferred custody from McKenna to Miller, who flew to New York to take the baby from McKenna in September, when the baby was 7 months old.  Now, an appellate court has reversed that ruling, instead finding that a pregnant woman has a constitutional right to travel -- including the right to relocate -- regardless of the location of the baby-to-be's father.

As with so many of these cases, there is a theme in the Miller-McKenna case of the father having suggested terminating the pregnancy; the mother having decided against getting an abortion; and the mother then taking the position that -- since the father didn't want the baby to begin with -- he should not have any say in the baby's life.  But this case raises another issue -- the rights of women to be treated as people with lives and goals and aspirations, and not just as wombs.  McKenna was offered the opportunity of a lifetime -- the chance to get a degree from Columbia University.  The thought that she should have turned down that opportunity because she was pregnant with the baby of a man with whom she did not have a meaningful relationship, and who did not want a relationship with her, is pretty outrageous. 

This case is distinguishable from the much more complex (and much more common) relocation cases where a woman wants to move after a child has been born and established a meaningful attachment to its father.  In those cases, the move has the potential to sever -- or at least severely erode -- a bond that already exists, to the child's presumptive detriment.  Courts have recognized that even in these cases, the woman has a constitutional right to move -- the issue for the court is whether she gets to take the child with her, or whether the child should remain behind with its father.  But where the child is not yet born, there is no issue of severing an established bond, the woman's constitutional right to move on with her life must control, and her decision to do so should not be held against her in subsequent custody proceedings.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Reporting Back from the AAARTA/ABA Conference in Charleston

I spent most of this past week at a conference on cross-border assisted reproduction, co-sponsored by the American Academy of Assisted Reproductive Technology Attorneys (AAARTA) and the Assisted Reproductive Technology Committee of the American Bar Association (ABA).  The conference was attended by over 250 attorneys from around the world, including England, Germany, Spain, France, Australia, Argentina and the Hague (Netherlands). 

Several things became clear during the conference: (1) there is a growing body of very dedicated and talented attorneys around the world who are committed to practicing assisted reproductive law at a high level (that's the good news); (2) there is no consensus among the various countries on what ART practices are ethical or legal (that's the not-so-good news); and, therefore, (3) attorneys from the different countries need to work closely together to assure that individuals and couples engaging in cross-border assisted reproduction fully understand the legal complexities of their ART journeys.  To this end, it was wonderful not only to sit and listen to many thoughtful and detailed presentations on international ART law, but also to spend time socializing with and getting to know personally the top ART attorneys from the many countries represented at the conference. 

My take-away from this conference is a heightened conviction that no family should be engaging in cross-border ART without having consulted with skilled and experienced attorneys on both sides of the borders they are crossing.  Happily, having been practicing international ART law for many years now -- and having had the opportunity to deepen my relationships with many wonderful attorneys from across the globe this week -- I have excellent attorneys in many countries to whom I can refer my clients who are in need of their services.

International assisted reproduction law is about as cutting edge an area of law as there is.  I return from Charleston, South Carolina feeling privileged to be practicing law in this arena, surrounded by such a thoughtful and talented group of colleagues.