How a NASA astronaut ended up in family law’s orbit

Chances are you aren’t an astronaut. Maybe you dreamed about being one when you were younger while you were counting the ceiling tiles in math class, but it is just a talented few who actually have The Right Stuff. At present, in fact, there are fewer than 40 astronauts on the active roster at NASA. It may take the rarest combination of skills to make it into space, but it doesn’t make the astronauts any less human than the rest of us.

Case in point, U.S. astronaut Anne C. McClain worked hard and was fortunate to reach her dream of making it to space, but earlier this year, she found that certain marital issues can seem as fraught and complicated as, well, rocket science.

Child custody and divorce law apply…even in space

Lt. Col. Anne C. McClain

photo: nasa.gov

This summer, some very notable news broke about Lt. Col. McClain (U.S. Army) and her estranged wife, intelligence officer Summer Worden. Worden accused McClain of identity theft…while McClain was serving aboard the International Space Station. It turns out that while in orbit, McClain accessed one of the couple’s bank accounts. Worden claims that McClain did not have permission for re-entry into that particular account, an accusation that McClain denies. She says she was simply ensuring that the account was fueled up in order to support the child they had raised together.

The media had a field day with the estranged wives’ relationship issues. After all, it is hard to resist the opportunity to point out that despite the physical distance between them, they couldn’t avoid a good old-fashioned domestic dispute. There is more to this matter, however, than an opportunity for a Saturday Night Live skit. There is a learning opportunity regarding family law, same-sex marriage, and child custody/adoption.

Love and care for a child does not equate to legal rights

McClain and Worden married in 2014. Worden went into the marriage with a child that is biologically hers. While McClain seemingly grew to love and treat the child as her own throughout their relationship, those feelings and even parental-like actions do not constitute a legal connection to the child.

The matter of parental rights comes up in many same-sex marriages because it is common that one of the spouses is the biological parent of the child or children. A marriage between two people doesn’t immediately make for equal parental rights over a child within that family. For many same-sex couples, solidifying and protecting their equal parental rights comes from the legal process of second-parent adoption.

In the case of McClain and Worden, no second-parent adoption or adoption of any sort took place. Reports indicate Worden rejected McClain’s request to adopt the child. Now that the couple is estranged and likely to divorce, McClain will have a hard time getting the time with the child that she wants. Any time with or control over the child will probably depend on what Worden agrees to as the biological parent.

Communication is key even if you are worlds apart

One who was to be the first woman on the moon has good reason to believe there are no boundaries, but Worden clearly thought McClain crossed the line when she accessed the bank accounts while in space. McClain says she was checking on the finances for the family, as she always did during the marriage while home.

If Worden did not want her ex to have access to the bank accounts, she and McClain should have discussed this and changed the various financial arrangements between them. They could have separated their income and accounts. They could have changed passwords so the other wouldn’t have access to the information or funds.

For space travel, see a rocket scientist. For divorce and family law issues, see a lawyer.

This story of the astronaut and her estranged wife serves as a launchpad for family law and further law discussions. If you are in a marriage and want to protect your parental rights through adoption, a family law attorney can help guide you. Same-sex couples who are married or thinking about divorce should discuss their unique needs with a lawyer. If you are a couple who is separating, separate your finances and accounts if that is what makes you both most comfortable.

What made this story such talked-about news is its surprising relatability. No, you will probably never leave Earth’s orbit like McClain, but you will face marital troubles. All of us want to find happiness. That is why we get married; that is also why some of us get divorced.