Want Custody of Your Quarter-Korean Seven-Year-Old? Better Enroll Her in Martial Arts Class:

From what is otherwise a pretty standard "best interests of the child" analysis in a child custody case, Foster v. Waterman, 2007 WL 2119125 (Iowa App. July 25):

Harold argues that Anjela [who is now age 7 -EV] is a child of one-fourth of Korean heritage and it is important for her to be allowed maximum involvement with her heritage. He contends that Anjela's paternal grandmother, Song, is a Korean and she can expose Anjela to Korean cultures. We recognize the importance of Angela's ethnic heritage. However, Casey is very supportive to Anjela's relationship with Song and her interests in Korean cultures. At the time of trial, Casey was planning to enroll Anjela in martial arts instruction. She also rehearsed Korean language with Anjela. In addition, the areas where Casey and Harold live have approximately the same amount of diversity. We believe Anjela would have sufficient opportunities to be involved with her ethnic heritage under Casey's care.

Seems to me that courts have no business deciding, whether in a child custody case or elsewhere, how much and what sort of a connection a child should have "with her ethnic heritage." Some parents want their children to be closely connected to the culture of the child's ancestors (or of some of the child's ancestors). Others don't much care, because they reject the notion of bonds with ancestral ethnic groups; or they may even want to deliberately sever a link with a culture of which they disapprove. A court ought to remain agnostic between these approaches.

There may be some rare exceptions to this principle (though I'm not positive even about these): Perhaps in some situations there might be some serious evidence that one parent's approach to the child's racial background is against a child's best interests, for instance if a child who looks very different from other children is having serious social troubles as a result, but one of the parents isn't doing anything to try to deal with that. If an older child has herself developed some emotional connection with her ethnic background, and wants to continue that connection, a court might count in a parent's favor that parent's willingness to accommodate the child's preferences. And it may well be in a child's best interests to learn a foreign language, though learning Spanish (even in Iowa) is probably more in the child's interests than learning Korean.

But in general, a court shouldn't take the view that the ethnically quarter-Korean (or for that matter that the full-blooded Korean) should get more (or less) in touch with her heritage, or should live in a more (or less) "divers[e]" neighborhood. And it's just zany for a court to view a parent's willingness to enroll the quarter-Korean child in a martial arts class as remotely relevant to the child's best interests.