Student Wins Custody of Her Daughter

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.