How does a family court judge know what is in the best interests of a child? Might a child be lucky to have three parents?
Rod Dreher, author of The Benedict Option, and scholar at The American Conservative discussed the case of a Long Island couple and a neighbor with whom they had a threesome have been granted “tri-custody” of their 10-year-old son in a groundbreaking ruling.
“No one told these three people to create this unique relationship,” Suffolk County Supreme Court Judge H. Patrick Leis III wrote in the ruling for the first-of-its-kind case in New York. Bay Shore residents Dawn and Michael Marano, who wed in 1994, had a conventional marriage until they befriended downstairs neighbor Audria Garcia who moved in with them in 2001 and “began to engage in intimate relations” with the Maranos, Leis’ ruling says. Because Dawn Marano, 47, was infertile, Michael Marano, 50, fathered the boy, born on Jan. 25, 2007, with Garcia, 48, court papers say. “It was agreed, before a child was conceived, that [the Maranos and Garcia] would all raise the child together as parents,” the judge said.
Dreher writes, “The story goes on to say that the judge is believed to have “acted in the child’s best interest” — this, because the kid was raised believing he had three parents. So, did Love Win™ here? This story brings to mind the questions asked by an undergraduate at a Benedict Option talk I gave last month, which I paraphrase: “Why can’t we just love Jesus with all our hearts, and that be enough?” The answer is because love, according to Thomas Aquinas, is “to will the good of another.” Love for another can never be simply an emotion, a desire. To be fully itself, it has to exist in relationship to an idea of the Good. The judge in this case has an idea of the Good for that child. But is it really the Good for him? Maybe it’s the best choice of a series of bad ones. Maybe this society agrees that it’s the Good. Maybe not. One point is that if we don’t have a shared idea of the Good, it will be increasingly difficult to govern ourselves. Another point is that if the judge’s decision is not based in the Good, if it is bad for the child, then it is not based in love.”
Dreher makes some good points.
So how does a judge really know what is in the best interests of a child? Go to p. 32 of Tracing the Foundations of the Best Interests of the Child Standard in American Jurisprudence, 10 J. L. Fam. Stud. 337(2008) where you’ll find that every state has statutory factors for making that determination. The question then becomes: will the judge follow those factors, and will he or she know the child and the family well enough to do what’s truly best for that child? Or will his or her policy-leanings carry the day instead?
Can a child ever be lucky to have a threesome of parents? The best interests of the child should always be advanced by principles of family restoration, rather than family revision.