Frankfort, KY–James Rhoades had an affair with a married woman, from which a child resulted. For three months, the married mother allowed Rhoades to visit the child secretly, and he wanted to help raise the child. Then she cut him off, and he went to court. Near the end of April, the Kentucky Supreme Court decided that he had no parental rights, despite DNA proof of his fatherhood. Thus, he will have no custody rights, or visitation, or even knowledge about the child, nor will he have to pay child support. To read the full news article, click here.
The Court struggled with this case, deciding it by a mere 4 to 3 vote in which 5 of the 7 justices wrote separate opinions. That”s not surprising, as the case will fracture the opinions of readers here as well.
This case is like a hologram, which looks entirely different depending on the angle from which you view it.
One way to look at gender-related law is to ask yourself, “How would this decision look if the sexes were reversed?’ From that angle, imagine that a married man had an affair with a single woman, who bore a child as a result. Can you possibly imagine that the Court would order the child to be taken from the hospital, given to the married father, and that the single mother would be given no parental rights to the child? Somehow, I just don”t think so.
But before we get hot with indignation, here are some other viewpoints that may or may not have merit.
Justice Bill Cunningham wrote that married couples have a right to “be left alone’ from the intrusions of “interloper adulterers.’ He further wrote, “The severely wounded institution of marriage surely protects the parties from unwanted interlopers claiming parenthood of a child conceived and born’ in the marriage.
But Justice Lizabeth Hughes Abramson wrote, “Our world is full of inconvenient truths. We accomplish nothing for families, the broader community, and our justice system when we deny those truths.’ She believes the Court had made a serious mistake in holding that the father of the child is “the man married to the mother’ rather than the man who “provided half the child”s genetic makeup.’ While Judge Cunningham felt that a ruling in favor of Rhoades would weaken marriage, Judge Abramson felt it would strengthen marriage. She wrote that if men had parental rights in such cases, it would discourage women from straying outside of marriage.
(In fact, 33 states allow a man in Rhoades” situation to pursue parental rights, although such a man might not always win, even when DNA evidence shows he is the father.)
Rhoades” lawyer wrote, “The law is supposed to be a search for the truth, and here, the Supreme Court put its head in the sand.’
Diana Skaggs, a Louisville lawyer who is President of the Kentucky chapter of the American Academy of Trial Attorneys, said that Judge Cunningham calls the man an “interloper’, but “declines to judge the wife”s infidelity.’
Glenn Sacks wrote, “…the case is one reason why I sympathize with family law judges and the position they”re put in–people make an absolute mess of their lives and then come to court and expect the courts to solve them.’ To read this blog, click here.
There is much to be said for the point of view that marriage is sacrosanct and should be supported by law, that the baby is better off raised by the married couple, and that “interlopers’ like Rhoades should be prevented from intruding into the married family. But any such view needs to deal with the sex-switching scenario I described at the beginning.
Tell us what you think about these thorny issues below.