Elizabeth Edwards Doesn’t Want John Raising Kids

How angry is Elizabeth Edwards at her cheating husband?

Elizabeth Edwards reportedly doesn’t want her estranged husband, former presidential hopeful John Edwards, to raise their kids if she loses her battle with cancer.

But can a mother legally keep an estranged spouse from getting custody in that kind of situation?

CBS News correspondent Elaine Quijano reported Elizabeth is looking into whether the couple’s 28-year-old daughter, Cate, can assume legal guardianship over their two youngest children, Jack and Emma. The New York Daily News reports that, if she dies from the breast cancer she’s fighting, she doesn’t want them raised by John.  Elizabeth’s sister told the paper: “There a lot of family members who are willing and able” to take care of 10-year-old Jack and Emma, now 12.

Since Elizabeth announced her cancer had returned, John has admitted having an affair with his former campaign videographer, Rielle Hunter. He’s also acknowledged he is the father of Hunter’s now-2-year-old daughter.

Experts say the law does not appear to be on Elizabeth Edwards’ side.  Myrna Felder, a divorce lawyer, told CBS News, “We see this all the time, with one parent trying through a will or other instrument not to have custody with the other parent, and its very rarely successful.”

But why wouldn’t it likely work for Elizabeth Edwards?   Any move that denies children access to a surviving parent is usually not considered to be in the children’s best interest, legal observers say.

Felder said, “Think about the children: They lose their mother. They need to have their father. You don’t take away the second parent.”

Quijano said an exception could be if a parent was proven to be unfit. John Edwards is facing potential legal trouble: A grand jury is investigating whether he illegally funneled campaign funds to Hunter.

John Edwards is a jerk, of that there’s not much dispute.  And having an affair while his kids’ mother is battling cancer won’t exactly win him any Father of the Year awards.   But does that make him unfit to raise his kids?  If so, a lot more parents would lose custody.

via Taegan Goddard

UPDATE:  Mrs. Edwards vehemently denies the story:

In an e-mail to ABC News.com, Elizabeth Edwards emphatically denied a report that she was “grooming” daughter Cate, a 28-year-old Harvard-educated lawyer, to raise her younger siblings Emma, 12, and Jack, 10, in the event of her mother’s death.

“The story is not true,” Edwards said in reference to a New York Daily News story that cited unnamed sources saying she did not want her children raised by her husband, former Democratic vice-presidential candidate John Edwards.

Elizabeth Edwards denied that Cate or any other family members would get the children and said they would go to John. She said the Daily News story was false and had “no source.” “The children would go to John and then, if he died, to Cate, that is what we always said in our wills,” Edwards told ABC News.com.

Edwards’ sister Nancy Sims told ABC News.com that Elizabeth had never asked her to take care of the children and knew of no plans for the custody to go to anyone other than John Edwards. “I have no idea where they came up with the story that Elizabeth is trying to keep John from having custody,” Sims said.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. More importantly, it’s obvious that Elizabeth doesn’t want Rielle raising her kids.

  2. James Joyner says:

    True. Still, aside from the adultery, I’m not sure what evidence exists that she’s a bad parent, either.

  3. The other thing to keep in mind is that these arrangements Elizabeth is making are not dispositive. Custody is always subject to court review based on what is in the best interest of the children.

  4. Remind me again, how many people wanted this toad to be president?