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Terminal breast cancer used against mother in child custody battle

In an antagonistic child custody battle, a mother's terminal breast cancer diagnosis has been used as a strike against her by the ruling judge. Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the child custody decision was not that the mother's health was a factor in the decision but how the mother's terminal breast cancer played a role in the explanation of the child custody ruling.

The mother from Durham, North Carolina was denied primary custody of her two children because the judge ruled the course of the mother's cancer as "not known" and "children who have a parent with cancer need more contact with the non-ill parent."

The mother of a five-year-old son and an 11-year-old daughter has stage 4 breast cancer. The cancer has metastasized to her bones and she receives monthly treatments by doctors at Duke Cancer Institute; however, the woman's medical records say the cancer is stable and is not progressing. The mother says she is, "fully functional."

Under the Uniform Marriage and Divorce Act, it is common for a family law judge to include physical and mental health as factors in the child custody decision-making process. Like many child custody battles, the case is a complex one that includes contentions of domestic abuse and unfaithfulness along with mental health concerns and restraining orders. Therefore the mother's cancer was not the only factor at play.

Experts say the judge's message that the children should have limited contact because their mother's cancer is troublesome. They say that children want to be with their parents regardless of their health. Experts agree the experience may be frightening but argue not seeing a parent because of health issues may more detrimental than not allowing the relationship to continue.

The mother currently shares custody with her former husband, who lives in Chicago, Illinois. Under the ruling, the mother's custody will be reduced to weekend and holiday visits. For the mother, the decision is a virtual ruling of no custody because she says the cost of airfare would make routine visits impossible.

Source: ABC News, "Judge cites Mom's breast cancer in denying custody of children," Courtney Hutchinson, 5/10/11

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