A ruling that was recently handed down by a judge in an out-of-state family law case has received a lot of attention due to the implication that the health status of a parent can play a substantial role in determining which parent will be granted custody. The case involves a divorce and child custody battle between a healthy father and a mother who was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Under the Uniform Marriage and Divorce Act, judges are permitted to take numerous factors into consideration when determining child custody decisions. Among the relevant factors are the physical and mental health statuses of the parents. However, the court's ultimate purpose is to determine custody matters in accordance with the best interests of the children.
The judge in this high-profile, emotional case found the opinion of a forensic psychologist who evaluated the parents in the case to be persuasive. The psychologist's report indicated that the interests of the children would be best met if the children spent less time with their ill mother. The reasoning behind this finding is that the children will theoretically experience a more normal childhood if they are not faced with their mother's illness every day.
Predictably, not everyone agrees with this seemingly harsh line of reasoning. According to other medical and psychological authorities, preventing children from seeing an ill parent may cause confusion and may be more detrimental to the kids' mental and emotional health than the alternative.
In the end, the judge made a decision that was within the parameters of the law; however, in cases like these the best decision for the children is not always clear. The mother is devastated by the judge's decision and reportedly plans to appeal it.
ABC News: "Judge Cites Mom's Breast Cancer in Denying Custody of Children," Courtney Hutchinson, 10 May 2011