Scott Wilson of Wellington, Fla., died on Feb. 12, 2010. A drunk driver ran a stop sign and broadsided his car, which careened into a canal. Four years later, his divorced parents still haven’t buried his ashes.
Wilson’s cremated remains sit on a shelf in the Palms West Funeral Home. His parents disagree on the proper place for his burial. William Wilson Jr. wants to bury his son in Blue Ridge, Ga. Lili Wilson doesn’t want the ashes to leave Palm Beach County.
In September 2012, Wilson’s father petitioned the Palm Beach County Circuit Court to declare the ashes “property.” An affirmative ruling would allow him to divide the remains with his ex-wife, who objected to the splitting of Wilson’s ashes on religious grounds.
In February 2013, the trial court turned down his request and ordered the former spouses to resolve their dispute within 30 days. If they failed to bury their son in a month, the court would appoint someone to do it for them.
The father took his petition to Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeals. On May 21, 2014, a panel of three judges upheld the circuit court’s ruling that Wilson’s ashes are neither his parents’ nor anyone else’s “property.”
In the court opinion, Judge Melanie May concludes that the Wilson family dispute “is a matter best left to our legislature should it decide to address this sensitive policy issue.”
With more creativity than these Florida judges, King Solomon once resolved a similar “sensitive policy issue” between two prostitutes.
Two women came to the king with a single baby boy. Each woman claimed the child as her own. Solomon called for a sword and gave chilling orders: “‘Cut the living child in two and give half to one and half to the other’” (I Kings 3:25, NIV).
One woman agreed to the division. The other cried for mercy. She would rather lose all of the living child than keep half of his dead body. Solomon discerned motherhood in that woman’s compassion and returned the boy to her.
Solomon didn’t shoo the women away to fix their own problem. He didn’t pass them off to other Israelite officials either. With a clever bluff, he forced an end to the nasty custodial duel and kept an infant from becoming divisible property.
The Florida judges who ruled on Scott Wilson’s ashes could benefit from Solomon’s wisdom. They defended a mother who refused to treat her son’s remains as property, but failed to bring peace to her fight with the father.
What if the Palm Beach County Circuit Court had demanded the couple pick a burial site that very day? And if the parents failed to do so, a court-ordered helicopter would scatter Wilson’s ashes over the Atlantic. Was Solomon’s ultimatum any less absurd?
By offering a month instead, the circuit judges gave the father time to file his appeal. Solomon determined not to let the prostitutes out of his court before delivering the baby boy to one woman or the other.
The courts aren’t the only ones who would do well to consider this Bible story. Either parent could learn from the second prostitute’s surrender, which gave the king an occasion for his just ruling and nipped an endless argument in the bud.