'Kidnapped' before birth: couple's bitter custody dispute over baby

The ugly custody dispute has been fought out via text messages, Twitter and blog postings, as well as by lawyers in courts on both coasts of America. Now it is being watched closely for the precedent it might set on the respective rights of estranged parents of unborn babies.

The case sees Bode Miller, a 36-year-old former overall world champion skiier, pitted against Sara McKenna, 27, a former Marine. They are the parents of an eight-month-old son who was conceived during a short-lived relationship last year.

Soon after she became pregnant Ms McKenna moved from California, where Mr Miller lives, to New York, where she was set to study at Columbia University.

Custody dispute: Bode Miller.
Custody dispute: Bode Miller. Photo: Getty Images

The child was born to Ms McKenna in New York in February, but months later a family court referee issued a ruling against her for "the appropriation of the child in utero". The court stated that she had engaged in a "reprehensible" act and "unjustifiable conduct" by moving away from Mr Miller, and custody was then granted to him.

Their antagonism is so deep that they can't even agree on a name for the boy: Mr Miller calls his son Nathaniel, but Ms McKenna named him Samuel.

Now a Manhattan appeal court has overturned the court's ruling, opening the way for Ms McKenna to seek the return of her son, who currently lives with Mr Miller and his new wife, Morgan Beck Miller, a pro-beach volleyball player.

Ms McKenna's lawyers argued that if the earlier court ruling was allowed to stand, it meant that a pregnant woman would have to seek permission about where to live from a man with whom she had no current relationship, and that Ms McKenna was effectively accused of kidnapping her own child.

But Mr Miller has responded that he had rights as the father and that he always wanted to be involved in the child's upbringing. He disputed Ms McKenna's claims about his earlier attitude. For the past three months, he has raised the boy with Mrs Miller, whom he married after a whirlwind romance while Ms McKenna was pregnant. Mrs Miller had a miscarriage in January, just a month before Ms McKenna gave birth.

Which parent will win physical custody of the infant seems certain to be the subject of future litigation in California and New York. Ms McKenna has claimed that Mr Miller dumped her after becoming infatuated with his new wife, and that he told her he was "too busy" playing golf and going to sports games to be a father. She says he also told her she should end the pregnancy.


In her evidence, she released what she said were text messages from Mr Miller, including one that read: "U are going to do this on your own."

The skier and his wife countered that they were the targets of a "misleading" campaign, and that they wanted to support Ms McKenna.

Mr Miller, who also has a five-year-old daughter from another relationship, was long known for his off-piste antics and outspoken comments, as well as a skiing style that some critics said verged on the reckless. He spelled out his sporting philosophy in his book Bode: Go Fast, Be Good, Have Fun, stating that his goal was not to win medals but to ski "as fast as the natural universe will allow".

Custody dispute: Sara McKenna. Photo from Twitter.
Custody dispute: Sara McKenna. Photo from Twitter. 

The Telegraph, London

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