Custody battles now include obesity issue

The HealthGal Health Guide
  • The new elephant in the courtroom is a child's weight and the accusations that one parent is not taking optimal care of the child, as evidenced by the child's weight situation. According to a Wall Street Journal column, lawyers say the problem is becoming a more common courtroom tactic, with one parent accusing the other of putting the child or children at serious risk of diabetes or heart disease or other physical or even emotional issues, because they are not following optimal nutrition and fitness practices in the home. The article points out that for judges, the question of who gets custody rests on one simple issue: the best interests of the child. The decision used to be determined based mostly on the emotional health of the child, unless frank physical abuse was ongoing or suspected. But now the term "physical abuse" can certainly include an utter lack of, or some degree of "abusive nutrition."

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    Clearly if a child is eating a diet comprised of almost exclusively fast food and if the child is seriously overweight AND misses his pediatric health screenings and vaccinations and is also doing poorly at school - it's a no brainer as to who will get custody, if all this has occurred while the child is mostly under the care of one parent. But what if the considerations just involve diet and weight and all other care is optimal? Health dangers associated with a child being seriously overweight or obese are well known. But only recently has the environment in the home in terms of eating and exercise, been considered a serious parenting issue to be examined closely in a custody case, or for that matter in the case of child protective services considering removal of a child from the home. Recent news coverage has featured some extreme cases of morbidly obese children being temporarily taken from their home and placed in an in-patient hospital setting.  Experts like David Ludwig have adopted the position that "in severe cases of childhood obesity, removal from the home may have to be considered." Lawyers across the nation are now seeing the "lifestyle component" being used as another evaluation tool by judges in custody hearings.


    Currently each judge may personally assign "weight" to each aspect of home life, in an effort to tally up some points and decide if one parent is more responsible than another parent.  Not surprisingly, different judges may give different value to the eating and physical activity habits being emphasized in the home, and their resulting impact on a child's health. Lawyers acknowledge that concerns by one parent often come from a "good place," but unless there is clear and obvious physical evidence, these issues will not necessarily rank high on the judge's radar as he is making a decision on custody.


    What do you think?? Have you been involved in a custody case that looked at this issue?

Published On: November 10, 2011