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Parents' smoking habits may play role in custody cases

For divorcing parents in Florida, child custody can be one of the most important aspects of the divorce. Courts look to the best interests of the child, but a growing trend across the country indicates that judges in child custody cases are increasingly examining a particular aspect of parents' behavior to determine what custody arrangement is in the child's best interests.

That parental behavior, the subject of growing judicial scrutiny, is smoking. We all know the health risks that smoking poses to smokers and those around them. Judges are concluding that the state has an interest in protecting young children from exposure to secondhand cigarette smoke in a parent's home and other enclosed spaces, such as a car.

A brief survey of child custody cases where smoking was an issue shows courts' preference to award custody and visitation rights to non-smokers. In one divorce proceeding, a woman, who was a smoker, was given custody of her child. But when the court later discovered that the child was asthmatic and that the woman smoked inside the house, the court revoked the custody agreement and awarded custody to the other parent. In another case, a woman had to agree not to smoke in order to continue visitation with her son.

The importance of a parent's smoking habits to custody determinations is increasing. No court has said that smoking is irrelevant in custody cases, while a significant minority of states have actively listed exposure to smoke as a factor in such cases. Parents can turn to an experienced family law attorney to help them determine what role smoking may play in their child custody or visitation rights case.

Source: The Washington Times, "Smokers losing child custody cases a growing trend," Myra Fleischer, Feb. 21, 2012.

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