Alaina Giordano, a North Carolina freelance writer battling Stage 4 breast cancer, lost custody of her 11-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son last month in a nasty divorce case. Giordano and her estranged husband have traded accusations of infidelity and abuse, but those weren't the deciding factors according to the judge, who suggested the kids would be better off living with their father because of their mom's precarious health. After a wave of publicity, Giordano's lawyers launched an appeal this week. Here, a brief guide to the case:
What exactly did the judge say?
Durham, N.C., District Court Judge Nancy Gordon said her April decision was based on several factors. For one thing, she said, Giordano's estranged husband, Kane Snyder, has a job with Sears Holdings Inc. in Chicago, while she is a stay-at-home mom with no regular paycheck. But Gordon also singled out Giordano's breast cancer, which has metastasized to her bones, as a key reason, noting that "the course of her disease is unknown." Gordon also said that "children who have a parent with cancer need more contact with the non-ill parent."
How did Giordano respond?
She put the internet to work for her, starting a blog asking readers to "Say NO! to CANCER discrimination!" A childhood friend launched a Facebook page that quickly amassed more than 14,000 fans. Giordano's supporters also pushed an online petition called "Do Not Allow NC Judge To Take Alaina Giordano’s Children Just Because She Has Cancer," and so far have collected more than 75,000 signatures. Giordano also flew to New York City to do a publicity blitz that included appearances, with daughter Sofia and son Bud, on NBC's Today and CNN's The Gayle King Show.
What is her husband's side of the story?
Snyder has not been talking to the media, but his custody filing focused on his job and Giordano's health. Snyder is to assume primary custody on June 17, but Giordano will get the kids on weekends and holidays. Snyder has reportedly suggested that Giordano could fly up on weekends, or simply move to Chicago, but said that he can't move back to Durham because he wouldn't be able to find work there.
What do child-care experts say?
In her ruling, Judge Gordon cited forensic psychologist Dr. Helen Brantley, who says children of cancer patients do better when they have more contact with the parent who isn't ill. "Children want a normal childhood," she says, "and it is not normal with an ill parent." Others disagree. "Cancer is not leprosy," says Holly Prigerson of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, as quoted by ABC News. "Young children want to be with their parents, even if ill."
Where does the case go from here?
Legal experts say Giordano's appeal has a chance; courts can't discriminate against someone over an illness, although a judge can put kids with the healthy parent if the other is seriously impaired or facing imminent death. The decision may come down to Giordano's prognosis, which is hard to pinpoint. Her cancer is undeniably advanced, but it's not progressing. "That was what made the judge uncomfortable," she says, as quoted by TIME. "Nobody knows. People live five years, 10 years, longer. I am getting so many emails saying, 'I have Stage 4 cancer and I raised my children.' The emails are a great upside."