More and more judges around the state – and around the country – are telling parents to put away the cigarettes before spending time with their children. Although exact numbers aren’t available for how many custody cases involve the smoking of one parent or someone in their household, as new information arises about the dangers of secondhand smoke, it is becoming increasingly common for judges to consider smoking when making custody and visitation/parenting time decisions.
Why does smoking matter?
In a word: health. Judges, like everyone else, are privy to the countless news stories, research studies and medical admonitions about the impact of secondhand smoke on a child’s body. Medical experts have proven that secondhand smoke can contribute to myriad childhood health issues, including:
- Upper lung infections like Bronchitis and Pneumonia
- Ear infections
- Higher risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) in babies
- Chronic coughing and wheezing
- Higher incidence of needing tubes in ears to counter the effects of multiple infections on the structures of the middle ear
Since the effects of smoking around children are both well-proven and serious, judges are coming to the realization that, in order to protect the child, parental smoking has to be considered as one of the factors involved in any North Carolina child custody determination. With the possibility for health issues being so high when children are exposed to the tar and carcinogens in secondhand smoke, some judges will make people around the child refrain from smoking for a period of time before the child arrives to help clear the air and even make anyone who will be transporting the child or spending time with him change clothes or shower to remove trace elements of harmful chemicals.
What else do courts look at when making custody decisions?
Family court judges look at a number of factors when making child custody determinations, all of which are designed to ensure that the final custody arrangement is in the child’s best interests. These vary from case to case, but can include:
- Mental and physical health of all parties (both of the parents and the child him or herself)
- The preference of the child (if he is of a sufficient age)
- Social support system available to each party seeking custody
- Proximity to the child’s school and extracurricular activities
- Financial situation of each parent
- Special circumstances necessary to address physical or developmental needs of the child
Anyone dealing with a custody dispute needs to make sure that the court is aware of smoking or any other issue that could affect their child’s health. If you or a loved one needs guidance about custody, visitation or any other family law issue, consult an experienced family law attorney in your area to learn more about your legal rights and options.