June 12, 2020 • By Dennis Beaver
If a divorced parent overfeeds a child or allows him/her to eat whatever, whenever, resulting in childhood obesity and health issues, could this become the basis of losing custody?
That was the issue facing “Katy” and her 10 year old son “Johnnie” who showed up at my office in mid-May. Even though we were respecting California Governor’s “shut down” order, I still came to the office, conducting all business over the phone, Skype or Zoom. When someone showed up without an appointment, if they wore a mask–and depending upon the legal issue–I would let them in while maintaining social distancing.
My Husband Wants to Change Custody
“Mr. Beaver, I was just served with these emergency change of custody papers. My husband wants custody of Johnnie. Can you help me,” a very upset Katy who I would learn was with her son, yelled through the closed office door. As they wore masks, I let them in.
Indeed this was an “emergency”court filing by the father, asking for an immediate change of custody due to Katy’s “abuse and neglect of our son by allowing him to gorge on junk food, his weight ballooning to over 200 pounds, a close second to Katy who weighs 350 pounds and her morbid obesity is the reason for our divorce in the first place.”
Do You Think Johnnie is Overweight? Step on this Scale
From having practiced family law for over 30 years, it is a given that some parents have no insight into their poor parenting skills. This is especially true when a parent of an obese child is asked, “Do you think your daughter is overweight?” The most frequent answer I’ve heard is, “No, she looks healthy to me.”
We have an accurate Health-O-Meter Physicians Scale in our office bathroom and I said, “Who wants to know their real weight?” Surprisingly, both mom and son agreed! Ladies first, and 5’4″ Katy was 350 pounds, putting her clearly into the morbidly obese category, 100 pounds over normal which would be about 127 pounds. Johnnie’s ideal weight at 4’10” feet tall would be about 75 pounds, but he tipped the scale at 210. Clearly, these two were headed for major health issues.
I Don’t Believe Your Scale!
Katy–who, recall, volunteered to be weighed–was no happy camper. “Your scale must be grossly in error,” she sarcastically barked. I kept my cool.
“Your husband wrote that your weight was the reason for the divorce. Is that true?” I asked.
Seemingly unaware of the consequences of her reasoning, she replied, “My momma told me that once I hooked a man that it didn’t matter how I looked. He was mine forever.”
“How much did you weigh when you were married?”
“About 125,” was the fateful answer.
A Chat with Dad
I asked mom if she would like me to call her ex and see if something could be worked out. She agreed, and so I phoned, speaking with a very sad, almost depressed, yet clearly dedicated father. “Short of a change in custody, how about getting mom and Johnnie into a medically supervised weight reduction program?” I suggested.
“I have begged her for years to do that, but she does not think anything is wrong! Go ahead and ask her now, put the call on speaker, and just see what she says.” So I did just that, suggesting that mom and son get into a medical weight reduction program through their insurance.
“I don’t need no !!##!!!! weight program! There is nothing wrong with us. Johnnie is healthy as a horse! Are you going to help me or not??” Katy bellowed. I kept my cool, the call still on speaker.
What Might a Family Court Judge Do?
I spent the next few minutes in a “Come to Jesus” session with Katy, her son and dad.
“Katy, for whatever reason you are blind to your own health issues and have allowed denial to now put your health and Johnnie’s at risk in addition to losing custody.
“I know of cases like this, where Mom’s lawyer begged her, even if she did not believe there was a problem, to just get into a medically supervised program. Only a few agreed. Most did not, and Family Law judges found evidence of child abuse and neglect. Custody was lost.”
Obesity in America is a growing problem. The Centers for Disease Control state that
From 1999–2000 through 2017–2018, the prevalence of obesity increased from 30.5% to 42.4%, and the prevalence of morbid obesity increased from 4.7% to 9.2%. Similar figures apply to children.
Family Law Courts are growing intolerant of parents like Katy. I could not help her. No lawyer could.
Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.