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Attorneys Vic Hill and Brad MacDonald

Weight may factor into Georgia child custody determinations

In recent years, there has been much talk of the epidemic of childhood obesity in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 17 percent of U.S. children and teenagers are obese, and are therefore at risk for serious and lasting danger to both their physical and emotional health.

As childhood obesity has become more of a focus in Georgia, it has also become an increasingly common argument in child custody battles in family courtrooms across the state. Mothers and fathers are accusing one another of taking improper care of children, resulting in poor health, a lack of nutrition, and obesity in children. But are family court judges swayed by these accusations?

Child custody is a loose standard, dependent on the judge’s perception of several different factors such as the standard of care offered by each parent, the child’s emotional well-being, and the relationship between the child and each parent, among other things. Now, many states are beginning to factor physical health into the child custody determination, with varying results.

In general, obesity claims have to be fairly severe in order for a judge to change his or her custody ruling based solely on that factor. In addition, it can be difficult to prove that the other parent is responsible for the child’s poor nutrition, so an obesity claim can be an uphill battle for the parent that makes it.

However, a recent case in which the judge decided to switch custody based on the child’s fast-food diet, heavy weight, and lack of proper medical care shows that obesity and lack of nutrition can justify a change in custody if the problem is serious enough.

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