After two years of legal wrangling, Johnita and David DeMatteo's divorce has become pretty heated. But the Rome, N.Y., mother of two never dreamed it would ignite a civil rights debate—about the dangers of third-hand smoke and the right to privacy. "It's just crazy," says DeMatteo, 39, a human resources director for a local racetrack. "I feel like I'm living in the Twilight Zone."
Make that a No Smoking Zone, courtesy of a precedent-setting ruling late last month by the justice presiding over the DeMatteos' divorce. At what he said was the request of the couple's 13-year-old son, Nicholas, Judge Robert F. Julian ordered DeMatteo, a pack-a-day puffer for 20 years, not to smoke in her apartment or car, on penalty of losing visitation rights. That means no ifs, ands or butts—even during the time Nicholas spends with his nonsmoking dad—to protect the boy from the potential health hazards of lingering nicotine. "It is outrageous," says New York attorney Chris Weddle, a litigator specializing in civil rights and family law, of the ruling. "Next week it will be moms forbidden to serve red meat or put butter on the carrots."
DeMatteo admits that her son's expressed dismay may be something of a smokescreen for deeper problems in their relationship since she split up with David, now 47, a postal clerk and part-time croupier, in June 2000. Following the ruling, which she may appeal, DeMatteo says that the eighth grader, a gifted piano player and golfer, "has made excuses not to visit." Whatever their problems, though, DeMatteo questions the judge's solution. "When is this going to end?" she asks.
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