Cancer Victim Loses Custody of her Children
May 24, 2011 5:37 AM   Subscribe

Alaina Giordano has Stage 4 breast cancer. The judge ruling in her custody case believes her children, an 11 year old girl and 5 year old boy, would be better off living with their father 800 miles away. Alaina's blog.

From the first link:
the judge wrote in her order. "Children want a normal childhood, and it is not normal with an ill parent. Contact with the non-ill parent normalizes the children's lives and allows them to go through developmental stages in an easier way with less school problems and with stable emotions."
While there are other considerations (the father is employed, the mother is not) the ruling is mainly concerned with the well-being of the children and in this case the Judge has been informed that the children would be better off not living with a sick parent.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy (29 comments total)

This post was deleted for the following reason: Lousy situation for sure, but I'm not sure what there is to do with this post other than argue with each other about who in a bad situation is the worst. -- cortex

Did anyone ask the children what they wanted? At what age does NC give the child a voice in court? Is the daughter old enough for her opinion to be heard? Were the children given a guardian ad litem? Who represented the childrens' interests in the courtroom?
posted by onhazier at 5:48 AM on May 24, 2011 [2 favorites]

I think it is a very short sighted decision; when the kids grow up they are going to realize that they have fewer memories of their mom, were able to spend less time with her while she was alive, because the judge decided they would be better off not living with her.

The dad must be a stone-cold bastard to agree.

Finally, I was doubly surprised by this ruling because in my own custody battle the judgment was based solely on the fact that I was moving out-of-state. Here, the fact that the husband moved 800 miles away doesn't seem to factor in.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 5:54 AM on May 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

In 2000, she was misdiagnosed in Pennsylvania with lupus and fibromyalgia, according to the custody suit. A lump in her left breast had troubled her for years. A doctor told her on one occasion not to worry, that it was probably a cyst that needed to be drained, the suit says.

In 2005, after the birth of her son, a physician suggested that a larger lump in her right breast was mastitis, or inflammation of the mammary gland. It was not until December 2007, after she went for an ultrasound and biopsy, that she was diagnosed with breast cancer. In February 2008, according to the custody suit, she had a lumpectomy and was told her nodes appeared free of cancer.

But Giordano remained concerned and insisted on full body scans in Pennsylvania, which eventually revealed stage 4 cancer, meaning the disease had spread to other parts of the body.

I have no idea which parent the kids would be better off with, but I'm absolutely horrified by the medical care she received.
posted by Dr. Eigenvariable at 5:55 AM on May 24, 2011 [9 favorites]

I was, as a matter of course, unhappy with the idea that a mother with cancer is less worthy. She isn't cancer, as she says, she is a mother. But then I felt she was doing some ad hominem on the judge, which seemed petty.

But, if this is to be the way of things, I find it only reasonable that daddykins absolutely must pay for regular travel so these kids still have their mother in their lives. And by "absolute", if he doesn't pay, he's in jail and the kids are back to their mother.
posted by Goofyy at 5:55 AM on May 24, 2011

This really sucks, but it does seem like the correct ruling. Her claim that she "needs the kids" at this point in her life is irrelevant. Children are not pets or property, they're people, and the father is absolutely better equipped to raise them at this point.

Without a court's finding of fact, I'm disinclined to take Ms. Giordano's claims about her ex-husband at face value. My parents' divorce and subsequent custody claims have taught me that parents get downright vicious and drag each others' names through the mud in order to attempt to prove that the other parent is unsuitable.
posted by explosion at 5:56 AM on May 24, 2011 [5 favorites]

Once Alaina dies, the kids are going to end up living with their father regardless of this court case.

I'm not sure what would be worse... moving and leaving your dying mother behind or watching your mother die in a horrible way and having to move house while you are grieving.

I'm pretty damned uncomfortable with the court's decision, but I'd like to hope that if I were in her situation, I'd give my kids up to my partner voluntarily...
posted by sodium lights the horizon at 5:58 AM on May 24, 2011

On non-preview: Dr. Eigenvariable, from what I'm hearing, lousy medicine is becoming increasingly common in the US. Gotta cut costs, doncha know, hospitals have to make a profit!
posted by Goofyy at 5:59 AM on May 24, 2011 [3 favorites]

Unless there is something really wrong with the father, I'm not seeing the travesty of justice here. The judge, based in part on expert testimony, ruled that the kids were better off with an employed, healthy parent than a sick parent with unreliable income. That kind of decision happens all the time. Unless you believe moms should always be given custody above dads, or that custody decisions should never be reconsidered, I'm just not seeing why this is upsetting. I would also be inclined to grant custody to the parent who isn't trying to influence the case through media appearances and internet forums.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 6:00 AM on May 24, 2011 [5 favorites]

"Unless there is something really wrong with the father"

Something is really wrong with the father. The kids are facing a heart-wrenching ordeal of witnessing their mother's death, and he's making it worse with a custody fight.
posted by ocschwar at 6:02 AM on May 24, 2011 [8 favorites]

Oh, yes, seconding explosion, I've yet to see a couple with kids break up without trying to blame the other for some heinous crime or other. Just because one party says the other is evil incarnate doesn't mean it's true.

I found the court papers for my own parent's divorce a few years back - some of the bollocks in that nearly killed me with uncontrollable laughter.
posted by sodium lights the horizon at 6:03 AM on May 24, 2011

This ruling made me feel ill when I read about it in the New York Times. I think the Judge is hugely off the mark in a way that will hurt those two children in the long run, especially since Ms. Giordano sounds like she has her treatment stabilized and is well enough to provide quality care. It's a bad, scary ruling.

Still, I'm not in favor of this reasoning for assessing the fitness of a Judge:

No kids? Never been married?

How does a woman with no kids and who has never been married become a Judge in Family Court???!!!

Having kids should not be a job requirement anywhere.
posted by Alison at 6:04 AM on May 24, 2011 [5 favorites]

There were disagreements about whether the husband and wife were supportive of each other. They spent time apart in the summer. He worked in Atlanta. She took trips to Denver and California. The children spent time with grandparents in Pennsylvania.

By the fall, the couple were arguing in front of the children, according to the judge's ruling. One argument that occurred while the children were in school resulted in each getting arrested and spending a night in jail, according to the judge's order. The charges were dropped after mediation. Another incident resulted in each taking out a protective order against the other.

Yeah, it's unfair to take a snapshot and draw conclusions, but tl:dr.....

This seems like another lovely couple who cannot put their own personal shit aside and do what is best for their children so this ends up in front of some poor judge who despite all limitations will likely make a more adult decision than either of those parents.

Mom might get over her own grief for a minute to see that the judge just might be right, but that would require the sort of unselfishness towards her children which seemed already in short-supply.

The dad must be a stone-cold bastard to agree.

Surely. Any dad worth the name would move his kids close to their mother and put up with it for the sake of his kids. Only a selfish bastard would not.
posted by three blind mice at 6:04 AM on May 24, 2011

What an outrage! Or not. I'm not sure what, aside from a deep and abiding sympathy for the mother (which is entirely warranted) will or should come out of this post. It seems like a really shitty situation but not a travesty of justice. It is framed, however, as if it reveals some transcendental proof of...what, exactly?
posted by OmieWise at 6:07 AM on May 24, 2011

How would you feel about your dad, later, when you fully processed that he had basically denied you your last couple of years with your dying mom? Hate him like poison, probably.

Losing a parent when you're young is terrible anyway; everyone I know in that situation is pretty messed up. Having your dad yank you away so that all you get is a phonecall, "sorry, your mom died last night, guess you won't be seeing her at the holidays this year"....that is absolutely the wrong thing to put a kid through.

Plus, precedent! Consider the political climate - what happens when dad has HIV but it's in check, but he's also gay and the judge is a homophobe? What happens when poor mom gets ditched by rich dad and then gets disabled? Lose your kids much?
posted by Frowner at 6:16 AM on May 24, 2011 [2 favorites]

It'll be easier on the kids. This way, when they remember their mother, they will think "she died of cancer", instead of "I had to change her colostomy bag and one day came home to a corpse on the couch as she slipped away while I was in school."

If it were me as a child, I'd want to be with my mother. But that wouldn't be my decision. That'd be the decision of the adults who are trying to do what's best for me rather than what I want.

I lived with my mother directly after a horrible, disfiguring accident in which she actually died on the table. It was hard, what she went through was harder, infinitely so, but it was very hard as a kid to have to suddenly grow up and do these things that adults would normally do.

She had no one else, so I was glad I was there, even if it wasn't great, but life would have been more simple and childlike if it was something I didn't go through.

So, I guess what I am saying is I don't regret it and I'm sure the kids wouldn't either, they'd step in in a heart beat to help and be there, but I can see what the judge and father are trying to protect them from.

They're children, sometimes they need protecting from what they want, and what the other parent wants.
posted by Malice at 6:16 AM on May 24, 2011 [9 favorites]

Unless there is something really wrong with the father, I'm not seeing the travesty of justice here.

Except for the obvious point that he probably has many more years to spend with them, while she may be gone soon. If you're calculating who gets to spend how much time with the kids, shouldn't you think about that angle?

And though the kids (especially the five-year-old) might not realize it now, they probably won't be happy later when they see that their father took them away from their mother at the only time they could have spent with her and left them unable to comfort her and be comforted by her during her last days.

If she had had a full-time nanny to pick up the slack in day-to-day childcare, I wonder if that would have made a difference to the judge? Because I suppose it's too late now, but I bet she could get plenty of help now for free (volunteer or paid by donors) given the current publicity.
posted by pracowity at 6:16 AM on May 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

Allegations of adultery, abuse and bad parenting are lobbed from both sides....But the case is more complex than a medical diagnosis.

I read this article in the local paper yesterday and those two sentences stuck out the most. Still, it does seem clear the judge used the mother's cancer as a key element in the decision, and that definitely rubs me the wrong way.

Oh and fuck you N&O for starting to insert that ridiculous "READ MORE AT..." code whenever someone pastes a damn sentence from one of your articles on the web.
posted by mediareport at 6:20 AM on May 24, 2011

Unless there is something really wrong with the father, I'm not seeing the travesty of justice here.

Well, according to this article, the reason she divorced him was because of domestic abuse.

So, yeah, I'd say that something's really wrong with the father.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:21 AM on May 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

It's an unfortunate case but it seems likely that the decision was made in the best interest of the children. Having to help take care of a dying parent can be extremely traumatic, she has limits on the care she can give her children, and the father represents more stability in living circumstances. Like others have said in the absence of some finding of fact that shows the father is unfit it seems like the courts were right to award custody to the father.

Is it fair to a dying mother to strip away her children? Of course not but custody battles are rarely decided by what is fair or equitable, they should be decided based upon the best interest of the children involved.
posted by vuron at 6:22 AM on May 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

the father is absolutely better equipped to raise them at this point.

I really don't see how anyone can say that without willfully ignoring the fact that neither link provides much information about the various accusations the parents are tossing around. Seriously, the last thing these cases need is easy judgments like the above.
posted by mediareport at 6:29 AM on May 24, 2011

It's an unfortunate case but it seems likely that the decision was made in the best interest of the children.

These are all unfortunate, sad, tragic cases. Cancer hardly adds hyperbole to the drama. Imagine being a judge having to make these rotten decisions everyday because people just can't act correct. I mean imagine having to sentence children you don't know to live with deadbeat Mom or deadbeat Dad based on short meetings and expert testimony most of which is depressingly negative about the parenting skills of both. And then having to take a media shitstorm over it. Judges are civil servants who really must sometimes work hard for their money.
posted by three blind mice at 6:33 AM on May 24, 2011 [2 favorites]

I have no personal experience of being a child living with a dying parent. The only person here who has, Malice, seems to agree with the judge. Are there any more MeFites who have lived this? I'd really like to know, because my gut instinct - that the children should spend as much time as possible with their mother - might just be wrong.

But I wonder at the wisdom of trying to shield children from everything but Care Bears and My Little Pony. I think it's irresponsible. Life will smack kids upside the head whatever you do, and the experience of the disconnect between your lived reality and what adults seem to be trying to pawn off on you is soul destroying. That, I have some experience with.
posted by likeso at 6:35 AM on May 24, 2011 [2 favorites]

I agree, three blind mice, but at the same time logic like "whether and how quickly her health will deteriorate is unknown," --> therefore we must take the children from her raises really interesting questions about death and parenting that the judge appears not to have anticipated at all.

From what little I've read about the case, anyway.
posted by mediareport at 6:36 AM on May 24, 2011

This case is like a Rorschach test.
posted by smackfu at 6:37 AM on May 24, 2011 [8 favorites]

This case is like a Rorschach test.

As a father who divorced an angry woman during one of her cancer recurrences, I'm still not able to figure out where to direct my outrage. Fighting parents bad. Judge bad. Cancer bad. Outrage filter.
posted by Devils Rancher at 6:44 AM on May 24, 2011 [2 favorites]

An ex of mine lived with her divorced mother as she died of cancer. To say that it destroyed her childhood would be an understatement.

Obviously everybody is different, but that did not turn out OK at all for her.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 6:45 AM on May 24, 2011 [2 favorites]

Thanks Metafilter, I could have gone my whole life without knowing a mother going through a nasty divorce and terminal breast cancer is also a scummy person. But nope, you had to remind me that bad things happen to people who are not so great, from the blog:
How does a woman with no kids and who has never been married become a Judge in Family Court???!!!
Also, I didn't think I'd come out of this thinking: that poor, poor judge.
posted by geoff. at 6:46 AM on May 24, 2011 [2 favorites]

Other than 'that poor, poor judge', I think Peter Aletheias makes the point I agree with most so far:

I would also be inclined to grant custody to the parent who isn't trying to influence the case through media appearances and internet forums.

It may seem facile, but consider: this publicity means that for decades after this case a cursory background check on the kids will turn this up. I for one would really rather not have people meet me already knowing about the fucked up custody battle and slowly-dying-mother that shaped my childhood - that's the kind of thing you should be allowed to tell people on your own time.
posted by pahalial at 6:52 AM on May 24, 2011

is also a scummy person.

Nobody has said that at all.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 6:54 AM on May 24, 2011

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