An 18-year-old San Fernando woman planning to attend Massachusetts Institute of Technology this fall has won the right to bring her 1-year-old daughter with her when she heads to Boston next month.
Nora Cadena, who graduated as salutatorian from San Fernando High School in June, managed to finish high school and earn a coveted spot at the prestigious East Coast institution even after she got pregnant at 16 and gave birth to Chassitty.
The baby's father, Ernesto Saldana, filed court papers this spring to prevent Cadena from taking their child across the country. But in a July 7 hearing, a San Fernando Municipal Court commissioner confirmed Cadena's custody rights, and Saldana agreed to let Cadena take the child with her.
"The only reason he was hesitant is that he was afraid the baby would forget about him," Cadena said. "But he budged at the end. He said it would be a great opportunity for her. It's just that he was afraid he would lose contact."
Saldana could not be reached for comment.
The California Women's Law Center arranged free legal representation for Cadena to support the rights of women to better themselves, said center attorney Marci Fukuroda.
"Nora's case is such a clear example of why courts need to trust women about what is best for them and their families," Fukuroda said. "This was an opportunity for her to get an excellent education, earn a good living, take care of her child, to realize her potential, and she was almost stopped from doing that."
Patricia Phillips, a Morrison & Foerster attorney who handled Cadena's case, said the dispute ultimately was settled amicably.
Saldana is now welcome in Cadena's house, Phillips said, and will be able to see Chassitty when she comes home for long weekends with her mother.
"The outcome is they were able to sit down and agree that this is the best thing," Phillips said.