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International Family Law Conference Ponders Denying Child Custody to Smokers

In what has recently received attention around the country, on May 23rd, speakers at the North American Regional Conference of the International Society for Family Law in Washington, D.C. proposed several controversial ideas: namely, in order to combat second-hand smoking in children, deprive parents who smoke parental rights, and require emergency room physicians to file complaints for suspected child abuse against parents whose children arrive in hospitals suffering from respiratory distress due to parents smoking.  The topic of smoking was a prominent one, as prohibiting smoking in the presence of foster children and punishing parents who smoke with any children in the car were also proposed.

Over 6,000 young children die each year in the United States alone due to their parents’ smoking habits—more than all unintentional injuries combined—with an estimated total of over five million serious ailments that also cost taxpayers almost five billion dollars. Children end up suffering from respiratory infections, ear problems, and asthma attacks as a result of exposure to the smoke.

Secondhand Smoke in Custody Proceedings

The conference provided guidance to family law attorneys on how to specifically raise the issue of parental smoking in custody proceedings, as well as how to work on helping clients work towards denying child custody altogether to smoking parents. In fact, there have been cases in which parents altogether lost custody due to their smoking habits, according to law professor John Banzhaf, who was the major presenter on the topic.

Yet, in spite of being a controversial topic at the conference, this isn’t exactly a “novel” idea: at least 20 or so states have already ruled that subjecting a child to smoke should be a factor in deciding child custody proceedings. In addition, as far back as 2003, states like Maine took it upon themselves to enact legislation forbidding foster parents from smoking or allowing others to smoke in their homes or vehicles. Court orders concerning custody and visitation have also been modified at times if and when a child is subjected to cigarette smoke.

The Power of Law for the Public Good

The backdrop theme for the topic emerged as family law attorneys having a moral—and possibly also legal—obligation to help protect children from the dangers of secondhand smoke, and to use their influence as legal authorities to do so. It appears to be undisputed that parents who are engaged in a custody dispute themselves absolutely can use the dangers of secondhand smoke against the other parent if they smoke.

Contact Us for Help with Shared Parental Responsibility & Child Custody

If you need assistance with a child custody and welfare issue, contact us today at the office of Sandra Bonfiglio so that we can help. We provide hundreds of Florida families with legal assistance each year in helping them work out and decide on what is in the best interest of their children in child custody arrangements. We can help you with your child custody dispute if secondhand smoke is a concern.

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