In re Waldron, 1816

13 Johns. 418 (1816)

“Best Interests of the Child” Standard

Following John P. Waldron’s marriage to Andrew McGowan’s daughter, Waldron became insolvent. In February 1813, Mrs. Waldron went to live with her father and while there gave birth to a daughter, Margaret Eliza Waldron. Mrs. Waldron and her daughter continued to live with Mr. McGowan until Mrs. Waldron’s death, and both were supported by him. Although Waldron had visited his wife shortly after she moved to her father’s house, he had discontinued his visits a long time before her death, and had never visited his child.

In May 1816, John Waldron, represented by Mr. Van Wyek, sought custody of his daughter by motion for a writ of habeas corpus in the New York Supreme Court. Although insolvent, he indicated that his mother was competent and willing to support both himself and Margaret. Thomas Addis Emmet, counsel for the child’s grandfather, Andrew McGowan, argued that in custody cases involving young children that are brought in the Supreme Court, the Court must consider the best interests of the child.

The Court reserved judgment until the following term, and in the meantime, granted custody of the child to Mr. McGowan. The Court expressed the hope that the matter might be amicably settled between the parties and strongly recommended that the father let his child continue to live with her grandparents. No compromise or agreement was reached by the parties.

In August 1816, the Court, in an opinion by Justice Smith Thompson, stated that:

We think, therefore, that it will be a due exercise of the discretion with which the law has invested us, to deny the present application: leaving the father to pursue his remedy, if any he has, in the Court of Chancery, where questions of this kind more properly belong; there being no actual improper restraint of the infant. We think proper, however, to suggest, that the father ought, on all suitable occasions, to be permitted to see the child, taking it for granted that he will not attempt to take her away from the care and custody of her grandparents, except by the aid of some judicial proceeding.

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