I read an interesting article on The Wall Street Journal.com about the ever growing use of a a child’s battle with obesity as a tool for leverage in custody battles to prove one parent is unfit and therefore, should not have custody or should have a reduction in parenting time.
In some cases, parents are blaming a grossly overweight child on the other parent. In others, it is the use of a child’s diet (too much soda, fast food, potato chips) as evidence of bad parenting. There are also those cases where one parent uses the obesity of the other parent to argue that he or she is simply physically unable to care for the children.
According to a sample of family lawyers from across the country, arguments like the ones above are being heard and utilized more frequently in family courtrooms. For judges in New Jersey, and many other states, the standard when deciding these issues is what is in the best interest of the child. The state of Pennsylvania recently altered its definition of best interest to include the physical and emotional well-being of a child.
The article goes on to tell us that “according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 17%, or about 12.5 million, of the nation’s children and teens are obese. Since 1980, according to CDC statistics, obesity rates have nearly tripled.” The statistics are staggering.
Social scientists, legal experts and law professors agree that the rising statistic of both childhood and adult obesity will lead to continuing changes in the law, particularly as the law relates to custody and parenting time. Thus far in New Jersey, no specific factor of weight or nutrition has been added to our best interest of a child definition/standard. While there is no doubt that practitioners across the state have likely dealt with the issue in at least one facet, there is no published law which directly addresses these issues. That said, the article raises an interesting perspective on how a child and/or a parent’s weight and dietary habits may be considered in contested custody matters.