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Divorced factory owner Earl Carleton has full custody of his young son Ted, when his ex-wife Gwen and her new husband Bryan Seward, a state department official, unexpectedly return to town from Washington D.C. and set a court hearing to request six-month custody of the boy. They are arguing that Earl coerced Gwen into giving him full custody only by threatening to besmirch Seward's political career. A doting father, Earl is furious that he might lose his son, but his lawyer, Sam Dunstock, suggests that he negotiate with the couple in person. Later, at the Seward's country-club apartment, Gwen tells Earl that he was never truly in love with her and complains that the custody agreement has allowed for the boy to spend only nine weeks with her, which is not enough time for him to know his mother. When an embittered Earl argues that she gave Ted up in trade for her lover Seward, Gwen flees the room in tears. Now guilt-ridden, Earl tells Seward that the couple can have Ted until the hearing the following week. At the club's bar, Sam's assistant lawyer Nina Wylie, cautiously flirts with Earl, but he is too consumed with family affairs to notice. The next week at the hearing, Judge Rudolph's questions about Earl and Ted's family life reveal that the businessman often leaves the child with his sixty-five-year-old housekeeper. When Rudolph asks Gwen why she waited two years to seek custody, Gwen explains that she was hoping for a compromise without the court's involvement. Seeing the boy alone, Rudolph learns that Ted loves and trusts his father and does not believe his mother cares for him. Rudolph admits to Earl and Gwen that each is capable of taking care of the boy, but because the ties between Ted and his mother need to be reestablished, Rudolph gives Gwen full custody. When Ted runs into the room to embrace his father after learning the verdict, Earl's contempt for the decision prompts him to tell Ted he has always hated the child's resemblance to Gwen and push the child into his mother's arms. Filled with self-pity, Earl begins a drinking binge in the ensuing weeks. When Nina visits his apartment to report that orders at the factory are piling up, Earl tells her to close the factory for him, but then breaks down and reveals that he only married Gwen to produce an heir to the business and was never really in love with her. After Nina tells Earl that he needs her to help him build a new life, they go out for drinks, but Earl finds it "difficult to be unfaithful to his wife." Only after a drunk Earl passes out in Nina's car does she profess her love for him. The next morning, Earl awakens in Nina's apartment, unsure of the previous evening's events. At first coy, Nina finally reveals that he did not sleep with her. When Earl offers to do her a favor for taking care of him, Nina asks him truly to notice her the next time they meet. Earl returns to a clean house and a new housekeeper, which Nina has arranged, and finds Ted, who explains that he ran away from his mother because he missed Earl. Soon after, Gwen arrives at the apartment and offers to let Ted stay with Earl until she and Seward leave for their permanent residence in Washington. Earl then immediately goes to Sam, hands him the power of attorney for the factory and tells him he is taking a trip to Europe. As he leaves the office, Earl stops at Nina's desk and lovingly gazes at her, but Nina is still too angry about his self-destructive behavior to respond. Later, when the airport calls Sam's office, they inform Nina that the plane is delayed and Earl is taking Ted with him. Nina warns Seward and Gwen, who arrive at the plane just in time to remove Ted. As a fistfight between Earl and Seward ensues, Sam stops the fight. Later, Gwen tells Ted that you will know when you love someone when making him or her happy is all you want to do. When Ted concludes that if Gwen wants to make him happy she has to let him go, his mother bursts into tears. Meanwhile, at Earl's apartment, Sam leaves after accusing his friend of cruelty for his willingness to see Ted "torn in half rather than give him up." Nina remains behind and admits that she loves Earl, but when he tells her he can "get girls like her a dime a dozen," Nina hands him a dime and leaves. That day Gwen requests Nina visit the club and then surrenders her claim to Ted and asks Nina to take him "home." In a moment alone with Seward, Nina learns that the couple does not have children of their own because Gwen miscarried and is now unable to conceive. As Ted is leaving the apartment, Seward tells him a story of King Solomon: Two women come before the king, both claiming to be the mother of a baby. When Solomon raises his sword to cut the baby in half and divide it between the two, one mother offers to give the child up rather than see it harmed. Ted is confused by the story and, after Nina takes him to Earl, the boy asks his father about it. As Earl explains that Solomon sagely deduced that the woman most willing to sacrifice for the child is its true mother, Earl realizes that he must sacrifice his own happiness and give Ted back to Gwen. The next day, as they wave goodbye to Ted, who is boarding a plane for Washington, Earl and Nina embrace as he hands her back her dime.