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December 14, 2000

Man drops bid to force wife to pump breast milk

Chicago divorce case: Both sides agree to drop the fight and wean son

Francine Dubé
National Post, with files from the Chicago Sun-Times

Richard A. Chapman, Chicago Sun-Times Gerald Ziebell, left, a Chicago lawyer, was in a dispute with his wife over the breast-feeding of their month-old son. Karen Ziebell was ordered to pump breast milk so Ziebell, whom she is divorcing, can feed it to their baby. Both sides decided to end the legal battle yesterday.

A Chicago man has dropped his bid to have the woman he is divorcing pump breast milk so he can feed it to their month-old son when he visits with the boy.

The two sides agreed to vacate the order, made a few days after the boy was born in November, said P. Andre Katz, the lawyer for Gerald Ziebell.

"Women who have children, who work, they pump their breasts and provide milk to the daycare provider. It's a common thing," said Mr. Katz. "You'd think that we were asking to cut her arm off or something."

Karen Ziebell, a former waitress who is now a stay-at-home mom, said she was astounded that the court had ordered her to provide breast milk.

"I couldn't believe that somebody had the right to control my body," she said.

Her lawyer appealed to the Illinois Appellate Court, which stayed the order until yesterday's trial, when both sides agreed to drop the matter and try to wean the boy onto a bottle.

Catherine Caporusso, of the Chicago chapter of the National Organization for Women, said the order raised issues of enforcement. "Are police going to arrive at her house, cuff her to a chair and pump breast milk if she refuses?"

Ms. Ziebell told the court she breast-feeds her son every 45 minutes, said Mr. Katz, making it impossible for Mr. Ziebell to visit with his son outside the home for even a couple of hours, unless he is provided with breast milk.

At the beginning of the divorce proceedings six months ago, Ms. Ziebell filed a charge of domestic violence against her husband, a lawyer specializing in commercial, tort, contract and employment litigation matters at the prestigious Chicago law firm of Vedder Price Kaufman and Kammholz.

The case was dismissed by a judge before the defence entered evidence, said Mr. Katz, but as a result, Mr. Ziebell is reluctant to be in the family home alone with the woman he married six years ago.

Ms. Ziebell breast-fed their older daughter until the girl was nearly three years old. Mr. Ziebell was concerned that if she also breast-fed their son for two years or more, it would be years before he could spend any significant time with the boy, and the two would not bond, said Mr. Katz.

Toronto family law specialist Philip Epstein, a lawyer with 30 years of experience, and a lecturer in law at the University of Toronto, said he has never heard of such an order in Canada.

"To me it's unheard of and bordering on the ludicrous -- that's looking for things to fight about."

Yesterday's proceedings lasted two hours, during which arguments raged over every aspect of visitation regarding the couple's month-old son and three-year-old daughter.

The court-appointed attorney for the newborn stood between the warring attorneys like a referee at one point, throwing up her hands and asking, "What are they fighting about?"

Cook County Judge Edmund Ponce de Leon, who originally ordered Ms. Ziebell to produce the breast milk, agreed, saying "This is silly."

Later he pointed to lawyers for both sides and said, "I'm telling you all, I'm really concerned because children always get dragged into the middle of things. I've seen permanent damage done to children and I don't want to see that happen here. So be very careful."

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