Divorce Law Monitor

Divorce and Space Crimes

September 17, 2019


The First Crime in Space! Recent headlines from The New York Times and other prominent news agencies drew in readers stating that the first crime in space had allegedly been committed. The articles went on to discuss the thorny privacy and jurisdictional issues given that NASA was involved and the crime was purported to have occurred on the International Space Station, where astronauts from the United States, Russia, Japan, Europe and Canada orbit the Earth. At its heart, however, the supposed first crime in space is a bitterly contested domestic relations matter involving income, assets, custody of a child, and de facto parent status.

Summer Worden and Anne McClain (a decorated NASA astronaut who was tapped for the first all-female spacewalk, and is in consideration to be the first woman on the moon) were married in 2014. Ms. Worden has a son, who was born approximately one year before the parties met.

By 2018, the parties’ relationship had broken down, and Ms. McClain, who had no legal status as a parent to Ms. Worden’s son, approached a Texas Court asking for shared parenting rights to the child and “the exclusive right to designate the primary residence of the child.” Ms. McClain accused Ms. Worden of having an explosive temper, making poor financial decisions, and asked the Court to “legally validate [her] established and deep parental relationship” with the child. Ms. Worden did not wish for Ms. McClain to have any legal rights to the child.

Ms. Worden eventually filed for divorce after being accused of assault by Ms. McClain, which Ms. Worden claimed was all part of Ms. McClain’s plan to obtain custody of the child. Several months after Ms. Worden filed for divorce, Ms. McClain deployed to the International Space Station. Apparently, not to be outdone by Ms. McClain, Ms. Worden, a former Air Force intelligence officer, filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission and NASA’s Office of Inspector General alleging that Ms. McClain had stolen her identity and improperly accessed Ms. Worden’s private financial records because she had logged-in to Ms. Worden’s online banking from a NASA computer in space without permission.

Ms. McClain claimed that she was simply reviewing the account(s) as she always had to monitor the couple’s finances and ensure there were enough funds available for Ms. Worden and the child while she was in space. Ms. McClain has since returned to earth and been subject to what are undoubtedly embarrassing under-oath interviews with her employer. In addition, her participation in the all-female spacewalk was scrapped. By all accounts, the investigation into the matter is on-going.

While I am no expert on extraterrestrial crimes, I would frankly be shocked if there are any lasting criminal repercussions. In my opinion, the issue is a strictly civil domestic matter, and a drastic example of why it is important to set expectations up front in a divorce matter and to CHANGE PASSWORDS. Doing so can not only result in a more amicable and speedy divorce, but can also ensure that in higher profile matters, simple issues do not become tabloid fodder and result in one party becoming infamous for the purported first crime in space!

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