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Considerations In New Jersey Child Custody Awards

In our previous post we discussed a controversial child custody case in which a judge considered a mother’s breast cancer as a prominent factor in awarding child custody to her husband. Child custody is one of the most contentious issues in New Jersey divorces and the determining factor in child custody awards is what is in the best interest of the children.

The judge ruled that living with an ill parent was not in the best interests of the children because the children would separate their worlds into a cancer world and a cancer-free world and become maladjusted. The judge also wrote in his opinion that it is difficult for the children to watch their mother deteriorate.

The director of the clinical fellowship program at the Family Institute at Northwestern University said that cancer is also a reality and that the mother will not simply disappear from these children’s lives. The children will experience trauma from being separated by their mother and worry about her, she said.

The stress of losing one’s children and worries over an impending divorce can adversely impact a cancer patient’s health. Worries about insurance and treatments also make this worrisome time even worse for survivors. Cancer experts note that children are the reason why most cancer patients endure chemotherapy despite poor odds of recovery.

“They think, ‘If I keep doing chemo, I’m going to see my child graduate,'” an oncology social worker at a cancer institute said. “So if someone is threatening taking their children, it’s the worst a woman has to deal with.”

Others, including one law professor, say that the judge made the right decision in this case. The professor noted that the court did not simply award custody to the father because of the mother’s illness but because she failed to make adequate contingency plans for the children in the very likely case of a medical emergency.

“The problem is that there were lots of things of concern to the court,” the professor said. “And it’s impossible to say what was actually motivating this judge.”

Source: The Chicago Tribune, “Woman’s cancer a factor in complex custody case,” Julie Deardorff, 6/4/11