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Can My Smoking Habit Affect My Child Custody Case?

no smoking.jpgOur Santa Rosa child custody lawyer has seen firsthand how easy it is for parents to fall into the trap of believing that their custody battle will be fairly straightforward and simple because they generally believe themselves to be “good people.” Often, parents fail to recognize what they are up against when it comes to fighting for custody with an ex-spouse or partner. They think that as long as they are not abusive, and as long as they are able to properly provide for their children, they will not face any real obstacles to being with their children. However, as our experienced Sonoma County divorce lawyer knows, marriages rarely end without any hard feelings between the parties. This is especially true when there are children involved. Therefore, parents must be prepared for every kind of attack, using any ammunition available to impinge their characters and their fitness as caregivers for their children.

One such attack that has been gaining ground and attention in courts across the nation involves the issue of parents who smoke cigarettes. According to an article in the Washington Times last month, family law courts in at least 18 states have begun to consider whether a parent smokes, and especially whether a parent smokes in the presence of his or her children, when making a child custody determination.

The article cites a study conducted by an anti-tobacco group called Action on Smoking and Health. The study analyzed thousands of child custody cases from all around the country to see what effect smoking had on a parent’s likelihood of being granted partial or full custody. Among other things, the findings revealed that (1) no court has ever ruled that the issue of whether or not a parent smokes is irrelevant to the custody decision; (2) judges often make it a condition of visitation that a smoking parent refrain from smoking in the presence of the child and in the day or two preceding a visit; and (3) some courts will even hear evidence about the smoking habits of other people who the child sees routinely while in one parent’s care, such as grandparents, close friends, or significant others. This means that even if one parent does not smoke, the fact that he or she is often around people who do can weigh against that parent when the ultimate decision is made.

Because of this growing concern, some parents will quit smoking altogether prior to filing for divorce or before a court proceeding to determine custody. However, California child custody law allows the court to reconsider a prior custody arrangement if the person seeking the change can demonstrate that there has been a substantial change in circumstances. According to the study cited above, courts have altered existing custody orders on the grounds that one of the parents is or has become a smoker. Therefore, even if someone quits before the date of a court hearing, if he or she starts back up again, it will be at the risk of losing custody and possibly even visitation rights.

As always, in our area it is important to have the advice of an experienced Santa Rosa divorce lawyer at Beck Law. Our attorneys are proud to serve residents communities like Santa Rosa, Rohnert Park, Petaluma, Kenwood, Glen Ellen, Bodega Bay, Ukiah, Clearlake, and throughout Sonoma County, Mendocino County and Lake County.

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