A California woman won the right Tuesday to continue her undergraduate studies at Harvard, after winning a custody battle with the father of her 10-month-old daughter in which he attempted to prevent her from moving.
Long Beach family law Commissioner John Chemeleski rules on Tuesday that Gina M. Ocon '98 and her 10-month-old daughter Bailey would be allowed to return to Cambridge so that Ocon could finish her studies at Harvard, despite the objections of the baby's father Tommaso Maggiore.
Ocon had left Cambridge in the fall of her sophomore year, in 1995, after she discovered she was pregnant.
For Ocon, an Eliot House resident and a single mother, the ruling is not only the end of a long battle, but the beginning of a new challenge.
"I've got a lot to do," she said in a telephone interview yesterday.
Maggiore, who has visiting rights to the child, had sought to keep Ocon from leaving California, saying that it was "unfair" to move Bailey 3,000 miles away from him.
His lawyer, Robert Gasper, said in court that Ocon was "selfish" and that she could easily attend a well-regarded college at home, according to a story in the Los Angeles Times.
But Chemeleski thought other-wise, and ruled that a Harvard degree would be in the "best interests" of both Ocon and her baby.
Maggiore, who works as a waiter in his parents' Long Beach restaurant, has declined to comment after the verdict. Messages left for him with his attorney were not returned yesterday.
Ocon's lawyer, Gloria Allred, hailed the decision as a victory for women's rights.
"The day has past when a woman must choose between her work and her baby," Allred said yesterday in an interview.
Calling the dispute an example of the "move-away issue," she alluded to another custody battle in which she had been involved this year, that of Wendy Burgess.
"She wanted to move only 40 minutes away in order to get a better job, and the court of appeals denied her this option on the grounds that it was not 'necessary," Allred said.
But Allred argued that the criterion for allowing the child's custodian to move should not be whether it is absolutely necessary, but whether it is good for the child.
"I argued that it would be better for both mother and daughter if Gina, who had a 3.5 grade-point average before she left Harvard, finished her education," said Allred.
While living in California, Ocon went on welfare to help provide for her child. ,
Allred argued that "without an education," Ocon would have been "limited to only menial jobs," which would undoubtedly affect the quality of care she could give to her child.
"The benefit of the education is to the child," said Allred. "It will give her a chance to become a role model for her daughter."
For Ocon, however, the victory seems less symbolic and much more personal.
She said that she looked forward to coming back to Harvard and re-establishing ties she had made before she left.
"I am extremely excited," she said. "I haven't been able to talk much to my friends since I left, and I miss them a lot."
Yet Ocon said her primary concern is preparing for how she will best be able to take care of her daughter when she returns to Cambridge.
She said that she has a full scholarship, and also that the University has offered to provide health care for Bailey.
But housing may be more of a challenge.
Under Harvard's housing policy, parents with children are not allowed to live on campus, so she will have to find her own housing.
However, Thomas A. Dingman '67, associate dean of the College, hinted that while there will not be any special housing arrangements made for Ocon, the University may "run interference for her" with local real-estate agencies and help her get top priority in finding an apartment.
As to the child's father, Ocon said she has no desire to stifle his visitation privileges.
"I hope that he will relocate to Cambridge," she said.
"This is about a dream," said Allred, "the chance for a woman of modest means to succeed.