Family Restoration for Children of Failed Online Matches

Online dating has become a cultural phenomenon. With online dating websites quoting responsibility for nearly 5% of marriages in the U.S.[1] or claiming that hundreds of thousands of couples find love every year on their site[2], it is no wonder that people seeking true love with the hope of marriage turn to these services. Sometimes, however, the heartache is the only match they are left with. What is more saddening is when this negatively impacts children.

Kristy Gaffney is one such woman who searched such dating sights and is now fighting a custody battle she never imagined. Kristy is a single mother that began dating a man she met online. He wooed her with his claims of being a business man from a wealthy background, working for the C.I.A. She says he promised her marriage and all that she had ever hoped for. As their romantic relationship progressed, Kristy became pregnant, forever linking them together with the birth of their daughter. The baby’s father sought to sever that link by tricking her into singing away her parental rights. He did so by telling her that the paperwork she was signing was to preserve his rights as the baby’s father. Though Kristy read the documents, she was confused and relied on her love and trust in this man. Soon after she signed the documents, the man never returned her baby, telling her that he and his wife were in the final stages of adopting the baby.

Kristy took the man and his wife to court to invalidate the adoption. The judge found in favor of Kristy believing she did not know she was signing away her parental rights. The judge dismissed the adoption, invalidating it because the mother’s consent to permanently terminate parental rights was induced by fraud and duress. The baby’s father contests these allegations and has appealed the decision. The problem now is that the custody judge will not hear the case until the appeal has been heard, so custody remains with the deceptive father. This appeal could take 6 months. If the father’s appeal is denied, he may then appeal to the Supreme Court and that could take another year, leaving Kristy to see her 14 month old daughter only every other weekend as the custody order stands now. More of her story can be viewed here and read at MSNBC.

Kristy’s plea is one for family restoration; to place a daughter with her rightful, biological and intended mother. Kristy fears that in this limited custody her daughter “is missing out on her [real] mother.” She is afraid of the damage that will be done during the drawn out judicial process as her daughter becomes acquainted and accustomed to a home built on schemes and deception. Her greatest concern is how this will negatively impact her daughter even if she does regain full custody.

The attorney for the father makes a plea to Kristy that “it is not in the best interest of her daughter to make a media sensation about this baby.” This raises the question of what exactly is the best interest of the child? Many states have statutes that have a list of factors that a court will look to in determining custody of a child. In the state of Pennsylvania, where Kristy is from, a few factors include: the need for stability and continuity in the child’s education, family life and community life,[3] the attempts of a parent to turn the child against the other parent,[4] and which party is more likely to maintain a loving, stable, consistent and nurturing relationship with the child adequate for the child’s emotional needs.[5] These standards set forth by the court are essential to family restoration. Here, Kristy’s ability to provide and maintain a loving, stable community for her daughter weighs in her favor. The court will need to weigh the possibility, given the circumstances surrounding this custody battle, that the father will turn Kristy’s baby against her, alienating her from her child, as he has already tried to take her away from her mother completely.

In looking at just a few of these standards, the best interest for Kristy’s daughter is to be reunified with her birth mother so that family restoration can begin. Child custody may not be immediately identified as or associated with family restoration, but it certainly can be.

The judicial system may seem an unlikely place to find family restoration amidst divorce hearings and custody battles. However, it is the court that has the power to insure restoration of a broken family when a child has been unjustly taken from his or her rightful parent. The court can work justice, and return a child to a loving, stable, and nurturing home where she can best develop into who she was created to be. Matches made with fraudulent intent not only harm individuals, but the children who may result, who more than anything need a strong, loving, authentic family to guard their best interests.

This excellent post is the courtesy of guest blogger Alana Martinez, Regent University Juris Doctor Candidate 2012, also currently in Regent Law’s Child Advocacy Practicum.


[1] www.eharmony.com
[2] www.match.com
[3] Pennsylvania Domestic Relations Code §5328(a)(4)
[4] Pennsylvania Domestic Relations Code §5328(a)(8)
[5] Pennsylvania Domestic Relations Code §5328(a)(9)


  1. Thank you for this post Alana. I have always been weary of these sites... not that I have really considered going on a dating site to find "love." But I know people who has, and it's scary. A friend of mine had a co-worker who met someone on eharmony.com and was raped on the first date. People "troll" websites all the time, and when you meet them you realize they are really trolls.

    I think this story is horrific. I also think the websites should do more background checking of the people they allow on the dating site, especially since it is a paid service. I believe dating services can work, look at Millionaire Matchmakers on Bravo. Social Media and the internet can be a scary place, and it does tear families apart.

  2. I am so glad that you posted this story to bring to our attention to this issue. The internet poses many new problems as it continues to develop. I have always been concerned with the problems these sites pose but never considered how a child could be affected. The internet and specifically dating websites allow predators to use or hurt others.

    It is truly disturbing someone would purposely deceive a mother into giving up her parental rights. A child deserves to know her mother. It is a shame that the judicial system keeps this mother from her child. I agree based on the factors you have posted that it would be in the best interests of the child to be reunited with her mother.

    It is clear that Kristy wants to be with her child. I am sure fighting a long and drawn out court battle is not easy on Kristy emotionally or financially but she is making sacrifices to make sure her daughter is not taken away permanently. I also agree with Ladonna that the websites should do more. They should perform background checks and review posted profiles.

  3. Thank you for the very informative post. Although it highlights a new dating trend, online dating, a similar situation could have happened even if the couple had met under different circumstances.

    This unfortunate story sheds light on the fact that bringing children into the world outside of a happy and stable marriage is risky. So many times people do not really know their partners the way they thought they did before they had a child and it creates an unpleasant outcome in many different circumstances.

    While I feel for the mother and wish her all the best in her plight, I appreciate how this post really illustrates that the best environment for a child is within a committed and loving marriage. Promises made between people can be empty so everyone dating, whether it is online or in person, should be wary.

  4. I agree that online dating can be very risky (to say the least) and that marriage is the best way to lessen the risk for children resulting from a relationship formed after a meeting on the web. I wanted to add an example of online dating with a positive outcome. I know someone who met her husband after participating in online dating through eHarmony.com. Both she and her husband are Christian divorcees with children by their previous marriages. As a result of their marriage, their new family became quite extensive. (He had four children, and she had one child.) They have been happily married now for a number of years, and she loves having a house full of kids. Before seeing online dating work in this situation, I would have been very skeptical (and still am to a great extent). I think meeting someone online is like meeting someone in person--it takes a great amount of wisdom and guidance from God to know if the other person is who God wants you to marry. The key remains, as Margo observed, to marry before having children--regardless of how the couple met--because this is the way God designed it to be.

  5. It is unfortunate that the judicial system, which decides cases in the best interest of the child, often hinders the best interest of the child in the process. The most formative years of a child's life are the very early years when they begin to develop an understanding of trust or mistrust, of autonomy or shame and doubt, and of initiative or guilt. All of these developmental stages occur in the first several years of life, and when children are left in limbo by the judicial system, it is often difficult for them to move positively through these stages of development. Maybe that is a reason to pray more often for juvenile court judges, guardian ad litem attorneys, and for family restoration. Ultimately, when two parents bring a custody dispute to court, it is the judge’s decision to determine the in the best interest of the child. As a result, couples who decide to do online dating must consider long term consequences of whatever relationship may develop and know for certain that the relationship is monogamous and will result in a lifelong commitment, especially if children are to be involved.