Palmer George & Taylor PLLC

Court walks a fine line re parenting in this family law case

Being the customary caregivers for their children, parents are logically given considerable leeway -- pursuant to both social opinions and mores and legal license -- to engage in child-rearing practices they deem appropriate to provide for their offspring and promote their development.

What legally constitutes crossing the line when it comes to the punishment and discipline that a parent doles out to his or her child? At what point can government authorities step into a family situation and demand that a practice be stopped, or otherwise seek to impose curtailing conditions on would-be parental prerogatives?

That's a tough call, certainly, and a thorny issue that is considered and revisited by courts with regularity, both in Idaho and across the country.

Consider this recently reported case from Louisiana, for example, which pitted former spouses against each other and challenged judges at both trial and appellate levels before a not-completely-comfortable ruling ultimately issued in the matter.

The material facts of the case can be quickly presented. In a nutshell, a young teenage girl was subjected to punishment while in the custody of her father (her parents exercise joint custody) that her mother deemed highly inappropriate. The girl had apparently told a lie to her father, and he and his current wife responded by forcing her to post a "shaming" photo of herself online for a period of time. The two adults also posted the photo on multiple online platforms.

The mother sought to permanently enjoin such conduct in the future.

The lower court stated that an injunction could apply only in a case of "irreparable damage" to the girl, which it did not believe was the result of the posted photo. It viewed mother's legal filing as an improper attempt to control the father's parental behavior.

Although the appellate court similarly found a lack of irreparable harm, it disagreed with the lower court on the issue of control. It found the father's conduct impermissible, and the mother's response an attempt to protected the child from further improper punishments.

Nonetheless, the appellate tribunal affirmed the lower court ruling, stating that it was "reluctant to interfere with a fit parent's constitutional right to parent and make decisions for their child as they see fit."

The bottom line in the case clearly reflects the slippery slope that often centrally factors into family law matters.

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