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Mother with breast cancer files child custody appeal

Last month, a district court judge stripped a mother of the primary custody of her two children, partially basing the ruling on her Stage 4 breast cancer diagnosis. In her ruling, the judge stated that she was awarding primary child custody to the children’s father in part because “children who have a parent with cancer need more contact [with] the non-ill parent.”

The ruling has caused mass public outrage in Las Vegas and throughout the country, with strangers rallying together on social networking sites to raise several thousand dollars for the mother’s medical and legal expenses. Buoyed by the support she has received, the mother recently filed an appeal, pledging to fight the ruling and win her children back. However, the ruling raised an interesting question: when determining the best interests of the children, should a parent’s potentially-fatal illness be a primary consideration?

According to a Good Morning America report, spending time with an ill parent may result in lasting harm to children. “The more contact the children have with the non-ill parent, the better they do,” the report stated. “They divide their world into the cancer world and free of cancer world. Children want a normal childhood, and it is not normal with an ill parent.”

But nor is a childhood “normal” if the children are not allowed to spend time with their mother, especially if she may, as is the case here, die relatively young. Further, is achieving “a normal childhood” even a remotely attainable goal when one parent has a life-threatening disease?

It is important to note that the breast cancer diagnosis was not the only factor in the judge’s ruling. The parents’ divorce is a bitter one, with accusations of infidelity, abuse, and mental illness coming from both sides. In addition, the mother is unemployed, and the parents live in different states.

It will be interesting to see what comes of this appeal. Certainly, it has sparked an interesting debate.

Source: Time, “Should a Mother Lose Custody of Her Kids Because She Has Cancer?” Bonnie Rochman, 12 May 2011

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