Update: Controversial Child Custody Ruling Ignites Passions

A case we reported on in a blog post last month concerning a child custody ruling in North Carolina was raising a number of eyebrows then and rapidly garnering a considerable amount of attention from the national press.

What a difference a few weeks makes. Since April 25, the date of Judge Nancy Gordon’s ruling, more than 100,000 people have signed an online petition protesting it, and the American Bar Association’s website is fielding a spirited debate on the matter. Lawyers, medical experts, parents with cancer, cancer support groups and myriad other voices are weighing in with passionate views concerning the custody dispute.

In a nutshell: The mother lost custody of her two kids to the father. She lives in Durham, he in Chicago. He has a job. She has stage 4 breast cancer, a condition prominently referred to by the judge in her ruling. Although legal experts say that the case involved numerous and complex considerations, it is the cancer and the judge’s comments concerning it (e.g., “Children want a normal childhood and it is not normal with an ill parent”) that have started a firestorm of comments across a broad media spectrum.

“It’s a slippery slope,” says Monica Fawzy Bryant, an attorney and regional director for the Cancer Legal Resource Center.” If someone has diabetes, is that grounds to lose custody?”

Judge Gordon wrote that, “It is difficult for children to watch their parents deteriorate.” Linda Rubinowitz, an Illinois psychologist, responds to that by noting that, although seeing a parent with cancer can be difficult for children, “it’s also reality” and “cutting them off from a parent leaves a big hole, a lot of curiosity and a lot of worry.”

Debate continues, with views being strongly expressed on both sides.

Notes Bryant: “With custody cases it’s particularly difficult because the standard is what’s in the best interest of the child. That can be a subjective determination.”

Judge Gordon’s order requires the children to join their father in Chicago on June 17. The mother filed an appeal last week.

Related Resource: Los Angeles Times, “Woman’s cancer a factor in complex custody case” June 4, 2011

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