AFTER 29 YEARS, the TV serial "Love of Life" may have flown the coop for good. But in another gripping sage -- in re the custody of George and Martha Washington, the latest chapter brings news of a prospective settlement that any domestic relations court would consider fair and decent. After a year of quarreling, the cities of Boston and Washington are approaching an agreement that might almost be called amicable.

But first, a synopsis: you will recall that the two classic Gilbert Stuart portraits of the Washingtons belong to Boston's Athenaeum, which, an example of genteel poverty, is reduced to selling them. Meanwhile, back in Washington, the Smithsonian Institution's National Portrait Gallery bid early and high for George and Martha. Then Boston flew into a rage, citing its Museum of Fine Arts, where the paintings have been hanging on loan happily for more than a century.

It's a matter of profound emotion. The case for bringing the paintings here for good rests on deep ties: from the family name Washington to those early days of the nation's first president -- "father of his country." Boston's claim to the portraits is simiply the claim of custom and affection -- and hang the cost.

The solution that seems to be emerging is the newly fashionable one of joint custody: to share the pictures back and forth between the two cities, not for one night a week and every other weekend, but for three years in one home and then three years in the other.

When George and Martha are in resident here, they will be the center of the gallery's collection. But what about that empty feeling when they leave the gallery to visit Boston? Will the gallery here adopt some foster paintings? No matter how you look at George and Martha, behind them will always linger the telltale evidence of a wrenching experience. Still, there is solace in the prospect that the city can make the most of every moment when the family is together.