North Carolina’s courts have made big news this week. Durham County District Court Judge Nancy E. Gordon recently entered a child custody order based at least in part on the mother’s diagnosis of Stage IV breast cancer.
As this segment from the Today Show explains, Alaina Giordano lost primary physical custody of her two children because she has breast cancer.
However, the local legal grapevine has revealed some other alleged factors that were not revealed in most news reports.
One important piece of information is that a mental health expert allegedly told the judge that her belief was that the kids were better off with the father so that they could enjoy a more “normal” life. This, in my experience, would be a hugely relevant factor in the judge’s decision. In complicated cases like this one, most good judges want to hear from experts like the one involved in this case. The expert rumored to be involved in this case is very well regarded and very experienced in child custody evaluations. Perhaps the expert’s report indicated that a “normal” life for the children was more important than maximizing their time with their mother while she is still here.
Also, rumor has it that each spouse made allegations of abuse against the other during the proceedings. In that situation, the judge is left to weigh the credibility of each party’s evidence and decide which one is telling the truth (assuming either one of them was being truthful). If either or both spouses’ allegations were proven to be unfounded (or even malicious), then that spouse’s credibility may have been damaged in the judge’s eyes. If that happened, then the judge may have viewed all of that party’s testimony skeptically.
While the initial reaction to Judge Gordon’s decision has been outrage, her decision may seem more reasonable as the facts slowly emerge to the public. Or, perhaps the facts will only fuel the outrage.
But, don’t expect to find out all of the reasons for her decision in the Custody Order. A judge must put information in the order to help justify her decision to the Court of Appeals if Ms. Giordano appeals the ruling (although the order itself will likely be drafted by the father’s attorney and simply reviewed and approved by the judge). But, there may be reasons for the decision that never make it into the order. So, we may never know exactly why Judge Gordon believed that the children were better off with the father.
In the end, this judge was forced to make a very difficult decision about these kids. As is typical in custody litigation, it looks like everyone will lose, including the kids.
This case further highlights why parents may not want to leave decisions about their kids in the hands of the courts.