As parents, we want to model our best selves to our children. We want the other parent to model their best self to their children. This means showcasing our talents and character to our children while hiding our weaknesses. Acting like a good parent isn’t easy. Getting your ex-spouse to act like a good parent is even harder.
Smokers will agree that smoking is a bad habit. But, smoking is addictive so it’s incredibly hard to reduce smoking even in front of one’s own children. So, there is almost no amount of coaxing and convincing that will make a smoker stop smoking regularly…and that includes during their parenting time.
Parents who want to enforce rules against smoking in front of children must turn to the law in order to find those rules. Unfortunately, most matrimonial statutes were written in the 1970s when smoking was still common. There simply aren’t any statutes in the states I’m familiar with (Illinois and Florida) that restrict parenting time because of smoking.
Most statutes that govern parenting time base that decision on “the best interests of the child”
Having a parent who smokes and is present will always be considered to be in the best interests of the child in comparison to no parent at all.
Still, there are several things that a savvy divorce attorney can put into a parenting agreement that can help reduce the smoking parent from exposing their child to this horrible habit.
Tips on How to Reduce Smoking During Parenting Time
1. Just Write in “No Smoking” Into the Parenting Plan
If there is no law in your state about smoking around children then you can include the restriction by agreement. Most smokers recognize smoking’s harmful effects on children to the point where they would agree, in the abstract, not to smoke in front of children.
Once the agreement has been entered in court, any violation of that agreement becomes a contemptuous action. The smoking parent will be adjudicated both violator of the order and bad parent for exposing children to second-hand smoke.
2. Quote Other Portions of the Law Regarding Smoking in Your Parenting Plan
Every state has a few statutes that declare smoking to be a public health hazard. Why not just reiterate that statute in your parenting plan? For example, in Illinois, there is a statute that serves as a wonderful jeremiad against smoking.
“Secondhand tobacco smoke causes at least 65,000 deaths each year from heart disease and lung cancer according to the National Cancer Institute. Secondhand tobacco smoke causes heart disease, stroke, cancer, sudden infant death syndrome, low-birth-weight in infants, asthma and exacerbation of asthma, bronchitis and pneumonia in children and adults. Secondhand tobacco smoke is the third leading cause of preventable death in the United States. Illinois workers exposed to secondhand tobacco smoke are at increased risk of premature death. An estimated 2,900 Illinois citizens die each year from exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke.” 410 ILCS 82/5
Furthermore, there are often criminal penalties for exposing children to second hand smoke in cars. Those statutes can also be included in your parenting plan.
A family law judge is not going to declare his or her own state’s laws as impermissible in a parenting plan. Once these provisions are included in your parenting plan, it still is quite difficult to enforce. There is no breathalyzer for smoking and no parent wants to get close to the other parent for a deep smell before and after an exchange of the children. Sometimes, just declaring the principle that “smoking and kids don’t mix” is important to make clear.
Rules against smoking tobacco can help serve as a beachhead against other possible instances of smoking in front of your children.
As marijuana becomes legal both medically and recreationally across the nation, parents are going to want a rule against smoking anything in front of children well in advance of the other parent saying “well it’s legal now.”
In addition to technically “smoking,” restrictions should be put in place against vaping and other ways to ingest drugs via aerosol or other devices. In addition to the bad parental modeling of vaping in front of a child there is the risk of the child using one of those devices.
No one wants their child to grow up to be a smoker. No one wants their child unnecessarily exposed to toxins. Just a few changes to a parenting plan can help bolster the stigma against smoking that has become prevalent in this past generation and hopefully end or reduce smoking for good…at least in your family.
Russell Knight is a family law attorney in Chicago, Illinois. Russell has been practicing divorce and family law for 14 years in both Chicago, Illinois and Naples, Florida. www.rdklegal.com