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Obesity increasingly important in child custody cases

Recent reports suggest that the role of obesity and nutrition are more often becoming factors in custody battles, with parents citing their child's weight as evidence that the child is being inadequately cared for while in the other parent's custody. Conversely, some parents have been accused of being too overweight themselves to properly raise their children.

Family law experts say that an increasing number of parents are accusing their ex-spouses of failing to provide their children with proper diets and exercise regimens, putting them at risk for heart disease, diabetes, or even mental and emotional anguish.

In Maryland, courts generally award custody based on which option is determined to be in the best interest of the child, but many states have begun to reevaluate how they define "best interest." One state recently changed its definition to stipulate that a child's well-being encompasses both their mental and physical health, which could cause parents with obese children to lose custody. Other states are implementing specific guidelines that would help courts determine whether a child is exercising and eating well.

While roughly 17 percent of American children and teenagers suffer from obesity, legal experts say that parents seeking custody based on their child's weight must be able to prove that regulating the child's weight is more important than the parent's right to raise a child as he or she sees fit, as well as the child's right to maintain a close relationship with both parents. As such, many attorneys suggest that obesity claims only be made when a child's health is truly at risk.

Source: The Wall Street Journal, "Obesity Fuels Custody Fights," Ashby Jones and Shirley S. Wang, Oct. 29, 2011

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