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DeShon Laraye Pullen PLC Board certified Family Law Specialist*

Child custody litigation: sexy costumes in pageants for tots bad?

An interesting child custody proceeding was set to go to trial in late August. Arizona readers may know about the dispute, which pits a beauty pageant-loving mother against an ex-con father. The mother has her young daughter participating in child beauty pageants and was featured last year on the popular reality TV show "Toddlers & Tiaras." The father objects to what he refers to as the sexualizing of his young daughter and has requested that he be granted child custody. But he has a criminal record that includes a felony conviction, and is said to have been convicted on a number of occasions for DUI and endangering the welfare of a child.

A court appointed psychologist has agreed with the father that the child's costumes are sexualized. Last year, when the girl was 4 years old, she was dressed up as Dolly Parton for a beauty pageant, complete with fake breasts and a fake bottom. The psychologist has recommended that the parents share child custody but that the little girl live primarily with the father. The mother has voiced fear for the outcome because she claims the father comes from a wealthy family that is friendly with the judge presiding over the proceedings.

For her part, the mother notes that the father only complained once the TV program aired. Before that, she claims, he was aware of his daughter was participating in the pageants and voiced no objection. Further, the mother claims that, if the court orders a change of custody based on these facts, other parents who support their young kids in activities like gymnastics may find themselves on the wrong end of custody litigation.

While it remains to be seen how this child custody litigation will be decided, it raises interesting concerns about the activities that parents encourage for their children. When parents cannot agree regarding these issues, a court is often required to decide the issue for them. When that is the case, a judge in Arizona or elsewhere typically considers all of the relevant facts and circumstances in order to reach a determination that the court believes to be in the best interests of the child involved.

Source: Styleite, "Toddlers and Tiaras Custody Battle Pits Pageant Mom against Felon Father," Hilary George-Parkin, Aug. 17, 2012

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