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Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Child Obesity as a Custody Factor in Family Court

Yesterday, the NBC Today Show featured a segment on family court cases where a parent was mounting a child custody challenge based on obesity.  This past year, I recall hearing much about the subject of childhood obesity, perhaps due to the First Lady's "Let's Move" campaign.

According to a recent report by the Center for Disease Control, childhood obesity affects 17% of our nation's youth; a figure triple what it was just a generation ago.  Now that this is a recognized condition putting on the cloak of yet another national crisis, should family court judges take childhood obesity into account in the custody calculus?

The father featured in the Today Show segment was shown cooking a vegetarian meal for his two preteen children.  He succeeded in his custody ploy to the extent the family court judge modified  custody such that the children stayed at dad's house during the weeks of the school year.

In Michigan, the Child Custody Act sets forth several factors which a family court judge must consider when deciding a custody dispute.  One of these factors is the capacity of a parent to provide food, clothing, medical care or other remedial care.  Arguably, this factor could include how a parent manages a child's diet; particularly if that child is at risk for obesity or is, in fact, obese.

The relative physical health of the parents and the reasonable preference of the child (particularly if older than age 12) could also come into play in a childhood obesity custody case.  A parent's unhealthy lifestyle may factor into the family court judge's calculus.

In come cases, it may strike the judge as unfair to basically penalize a parent for the child's eating habits.  This is a particularly close case where the obesity may be genetic and thus, hereditary.  Also, how far does the family court go?  

The optimal situation, of course, is where both parties co-parent with the child's best interests in mind.  Diet, exercise and lifestyle, however, often do not mesh between divorced parents.

As our nation continues it's struggle against the bulge, the cases of the type featured on the Today Show may pop up with more regularity in the county family courts across the state.  We all want the best for your young children.  Certainly, a good diet is an important component to a good healthy upbringing.

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