The Solomon Parable

And the king said, Bring me a sword. And they brought a sword before the king. And the king said, Divide the living child in two, and give half to the one, and half to the other. Then spake the woman whose the living child was unto the king, for her bowels yearned upon her son, and she said, O my lord, give her the living child, and in no wise slay it. But the other said, Let it be neither thine, nor mine but divide it. Then the king answered and said, Give her the living child, and in no wise slay it: she is the mother thereof (I Kings 3:24–27).

Critics of joint physical custody often argue the account of the first recorded custody dispute, between biological parent and stranger supports the assertion that two competing parents cannot jointly nurture their child after divorce.  However, a reading of the parable does not support such a conclusion.  The lesson of the Solomon story illustrates that in a child custody dispute between natural parent and non–parent, other things being equal, the claims of the birth parent are to be preferred, as a natural parent is likely to be more solicitous about the welfare of his or her child than a stranger.

The Hearing

Two women came to King Solomon both claiming to be the biological parent of the same infant. Unable to determine which woman was in fact the parent of the child, he commanded that the child be cut in two by a sword and then divided equally between the claimants.  One woman spoke up, pleading with the King to spare the child and to give the infant to the other woman.  Solomon decided that it was clearly in the child’s best interests to be placed with her since she preferred that the child be given to her rival, rather than have the child suffer death because of their quarrel.

This contest was relatively straightforward for Solomon to settle.  The King reasoned that a biological parent would normally have a greater concern about the welfare of their child than a stranger.  After hearing the replies from the two women, Solomon knew that even if his assumption was wrong, he could clearly make the correct decision according to the best interest of the childBut what if both women who claimed to be the child's mother had retracted their claims, how then to determine the issue?  Perhaps the Royal drawing of lots would have enabled the hard choice to be made.  

If it had been a mother and father contesting custody, Solomon would have decided the case according to the prevailing custody law at the time––custody to the father (the sole custody solution). Joint physical custody does not require splitting a child away from any parent as do sole custody decisions, but permits the child to continue and retain an equal relationship established with both parents––just as prevailed prior to separation or divorce.


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