You may have heard some recent news reports that childhood obesity is being considered as a factor in custody cases, with courts taking custody away from parents because their child is overweight. The reports are alarming and this is an issue that definitely needs some clarification.
Understanding the Rulings
Although news reports about these issues tend to be alarmist, the actual cases they are basing their reports on do not mean you’re going to lose custody of your child if he or she is overweight. First of all, one of the cases recently reported did not deal with a divorce or parental custody case at all and instead had to do with a state social services agency removing a child from the home because of severe obesity. Other reports have referred to two cases in Canada where the children’s severe obesity, and one parent’s complete refusal to get professional help for the child, were the primary reasons custody was changed.
Can a Court Consider a Child’s Weight in a Custody Case?
The simple answer to this question is yes. Courts can consider factors that impact the child’s health and well-being and weight would fall into this category. Does this mean you’re going to lose custody if your kid is chunky? No. In fact, since so many children are overweight this would become impossible for courts to manage.
If, however, you have a child who is severely overweight and you do not seek and follow medical advice, then you could be headed for trouble. Likewise, if the other parent has custody of your child, your child is overweight, and you know he or she is ignoring medical advice, or is not providing a healthy diet and lifestyle for your child, this could be ammunition you could use in your bid to get custody, but you will need medical testimony and you will also need to get evidence of what your child is being fed at that home on a regular basis.
What to Do If Your Child Is Overweight
If you are in a custody case and have an overweight child and are concerned this could be used against you, keep a food diary for your child, so you can offer evidence of what you are feeding him or her. Talk to your child’s doctor about the weight and follow through on any suggestions he or she makes, such as reducing the amount of soda or juice your child drinks and increasing fruits and vegetables. Document this in your food diary. Do not, however, suddenly start pressuring your child about dieting or put a lot of pressure on your child. Your child is already in a delicate position during a custody case. Adding additional pressure to lose weight could be very emotionally damaging, especially if you unintentionally send the message that it will be your child’s fault if you lose custody.
If you do not currently have custody of your child and are concerned about his or her weight, talk with your pediatrician and express those concerns. Keep a food diary of what you feed your child at your home and make notes about any information you have about what happens at the other home. Again, do not apply added pressure to your child about the weight or suggest that being fat is creating problems in the family.
Get Some Perspective
In most situations, an overweight child is not going to affect custody. Only in rare cases of extreme obesity or complete parental negligence will a court see fit to change custody because of weight issues. That doesn’t mean your child’s weight is not important, however, so working to create a healthy lifestyle and environment for your child will benefit both of you.
Brette McWhorter Sember is a retired family attorney and mediator and nationally known expert about divorce and parenting after divorce. She is the author of he Divorce Organizer & Planner, How to Parent With Your Ex: Working Together for Your Child’s Best Interest, The Complete Divorce Handbook, and The No-Fight Divorce Book: Spend Less Money, Save Time, and Avoid Conflict Using Mediation. Her web site is BretteSember.com and she blogs about divorce at SolveDivorce.com