Hearing mother, deaf father in custody battle

Originally appeared in Silent News, January 2001.

One says it’s because he’s deaf. The other says it’s because of competency issues.

Either way, it’s plain that the battle is far from over.

Jason and Loura Hurdich met online about two years ago. They started dating, and got married. Jason, 26, is deaf, and Loura, 23, is hearing. She knew no American Sign Language (ASL) when they started dating. “He opened me up to a whole new world that I would have never seen. I learned ASL from him, and about Deaf culture. He invited me into the Deaf community, where I met a lot of wonderful people,” Loura said in an e-mail.

They had a son together named Nathan. However, things didn’t work out between them, and they separated.

Now Loura is suing for full custody rights, with minimal visitation rights given to Jason. Currently, Jason has joint custody with visitation privileges two weekends a month along with alternate holidays.

“The court has questions whether a Deaf person is capable of caring for a baby overnight or extended visitations,” Jason, who lives in Boston, wrote in an e-mail. “When [Loura] left me, she questioned my ability of waking up at night with baby criers and strobe light flashers.”

Loura, however, insists this isn’t the issue. “The upcoming court date is about personal and private issues, not about deaf issues.” She declined to comment further on this case.

In a petition to the court dated Nov. 7, Loura said that “when Jason Hurdich visited with my child earlier this month, he told me he did not know how to take care of the baby. He also said he did not think he was going to have to take care of him by himself.” In this petition, Loura, who lives four hours away in Fort Edward, N.Y., asked that Jason’s visitation rights be reduced to unsupervised visitation for up to three hours at a time or supervised day visitation “in order to keep the child safe. The child should be at least 18 months old before he stays overnight with the father. In addition, the father should not leave the child with a babysitter at any time.” The petition also asked that Jason provide 72-hour advance notification if he wishes to exercise visitation, and have a TTY with him when visiting with Nate.

Jason said, “I told the court back in September that [Massachusetts Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing] had bought me a vibrator, strobe lights. That’s two sets of equipment. That did not satisfy her.” MCDHH then provided Jason with two more sets of equipment, including a vibrator and pager. Jason said almost unbelievably, “It’s too ridiculous. I’m sure the room will be fired up.”

The babysitting issue seems to be another area of concern for Loura. According to her petition, Jason stated that he would leave Nate with a babysitter if Loura was unable to let him bring Nate back a day early. Jason said, “The babysitter was a suggestion that we both agreed upon. I had to leave early one day, and she thinks I would hire someone from online. I told her I wasn’t that stupid. I would never leave my son with a stranger – no way!”

A licensed social worker with the Freedom Trail Clinic in Boston wrote in a letter to the court, “Mr. Hurdich has been under my care…There is no evidence of psychosis nor does he have impaired judgment that would demonstrate an inability to care for his son. In fact, Mr. Hurdich has reported that he loves his son and understands the tremendous amount of responsibility involved as a father in being there physically and emotionally in his son’s life. In my clinical opinion, there is no evidence that would concern me in Mr. Hurdich’s ability to provide and care for his son.”

Jason has collected over 15 testimonies from different individuals commenting on deaf parents raising hearing children. Many of them are from children of deaf adults, or deaf parents. All testify to the capabilities of a deaf adult taking care of a hearing child.

The social worker also wrote, “It would be truly a loss for Nathan to not have the privilege of continuing his relationship and bonding with his father in a normal and healthy way.” The next trial date is set for Jan. 8.

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