The issue of obesity among both children and adults is a regular topic in the news. It is also being addressed more and more often in the realm of family law. Parents in a custody dispute may allege the other parent is not a fit parent because of their own weight problems. The argument then follows that the parent will not be able to provide proper care for the child because he or she won’t be able to keep up with the child. Alternatively, parents may hurl allegations at each other because of the child’s weight problems. Here, arguments may be made that a parent is not looking out for the best interest of the child because he or she allows the child to eat predominantly unhealthy things or doesn’t promote adequate exercise. This failure to ensure an appropriate diet and active lifestyle puts the child at risk for developing serious medical problems such as diabetes or heart disease. It may also subject the child to additional ridicule from their peers damaging their self-esteem and psychological well-being.
Pennsylvania specifically alludes to a child’s physical well-being as one of the factors to be considered in making a custody award based on the child’s best interests. This factor was added when the custody laws were revamped effective January 2011. 23 PA CS §5328 (10) mandates the court to consider which party is more likely to attend to the daily physical, emotional, developmental and special needs of the child. Accordingly, it is relevant to discuss concerns with one parent’s weight and its potential to hinder their ability to provide basic hands-on care for the child. It is also relevant to raise the issue of how a party’s parenting is or isn’t beneficial to the child’s physical well-being. Child obesity is becoming a real epidemic with potential lifelong consequences and a Judge would be remiss not to consider which parent is taking the appropriate measures to provide a healthier lifestyle for their child.