After parents separate, it’s not uncommon for the children’s care arrangements to change, including their diet and day-to-day eating habits. Perhaps Mum used to cook dinners and Dad would pack lunches, and now the routine has gone out the window. Here we look at two Court decisions where one parent has sought to restrict the other parent from feeding the child certain foods while in their care.
Should one parent have significant concerns with respect to the children’s diet when in the other parent’s care, this can be something that is incorporated into a parenting agreement or parenting orders (click here
for our article setting out the differences between parenting agreements and parenting orders).
For example, in the matter of Baghti v Baghti  FamCA 711 (“Baghti”), the father held serious concerns with respect to the child’s eating habits when in the mother’s care. It was conceded by both parents that the 9 year old child was overweight. The father was concerned about the mother’s approach to the child’s dietary requirements, reciting the mother’s approach that “you cannot force feed a child, and that when the child is full he will stop eating”. Evidence was provided to the Court that the child had said that the mother had continued to feed him junk food including “McDonald’s, KFC, fish and chips, muffins, chocolates, hot chips” and soft drinks.
Ultimately the Court ordered that the parents obtain a referral for the child to attend upon a dietician, and that the parents adhere to the advice of the dietician with respect to the child’s diet.
Unlike the case of Baghti, the decision in Tilbert & Wessels  FAMCA 59 (“Tilbert”) addresses the Court’s approach to restricting a child’s diet, not for the child’s health concerns, but for the mother’s health concerns. In Tilbert, the 2-and-a-half-year-old child was living primarily with his mother and spending time with his father each week. The mother sought orders that:
→ “The father use his best endeavours so as to ensure the child is not exposed to or eat bacon, chilli and/or spices in the chilli family whilst the child is in his care” and
→ “The father shall ensure that the mother is made aware as soon as is reasonably possible that the child has been exposed to bacon, chilli and/or spices”.
The mother’s concerns with respect to the child’s eating habits stemmed from the mother’s own allergies to chilli and spices, and the mother’s sister being allergic to bacon. The Court noted that the mother’s sister did not live in the mother’s household. Further, since the child had commenced spending time with the father following separation, the mother had not had any allergic reactions after the child was returned home to her after spending time with the father. The Court did however note that on one occasion, the mother was highly anxious that the child might have eaten “chicken nuggets” in the father’s care, and that she may have a reaction. It was not clear what, in chicken nuggets, might have caused a reaction.
The Court was not willing to make the orders that the mother sought. This was primarily on the basis that the mother did not suggest that she had had any allergic reaction after the child had returned from the father’s care.
Ultimately, if a parent has concerns as to a child’s eating habits while in the care of the other parent, the parents may agree to include some guidelines in any parenting agreement/orders made. If agreement cannot be reached with respect to the child’s eating habits, and if the child’s diet is inappropriate to the extent that the child is suffering harm as a result, then it may be appropriate to seek orders from the Court restricting the child’s diet and/or engaging a dietician to assist.