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Not always easy: court intervention re parenting decisions

Of course it’s a given that parents customarily wield sizable authority over their children and are given broad latitude regarding their determinations on matters focused on discipline, setting boundaries and the proper punishment — if any — to dole out when they believe doing so is in a child’s best interests.

That authority is not absolute, though, with government officials and courts sometimes stepping in to question it and, in select instances, forbid parental actions that they deem undermine rather than promote a child’s best interests.

Court involvement — often solicited in family law cases by one parent questioning the behavior of another — can spell a slippery slope when a judicial judgment is sought on parental prerogatives. For understandable reasons, judges are not always comfortable wading into the organic and highly personalized affairs of families, especially when they are asked to evaluate the reasonableness of disciplinary measures taken by a father or mother.

Yet sometimes they are flatly asked to do so, with their decisions having fundamentally important and even profound consequences for families.

A recent case from another state (yet with notable relevance in Massachusetts and elsewhere across the country) well confirms that point, with judges at two court levels engaging in an obvious struggle to seamlessly articulate and apply a standard for judicial involvement regarding one parent’s disciplinary action challenged by an ex-spouse sharing joint custody.

The gist of the case: A father shamed his 13-year-old daughter after catching her in a lie by making her post an embarrassing photo of herself online. Her mother objected to that strategy and took the matter to court.

Both a trial court and appellate tribunal opted not to issue an injunction n the matter, noting that the girl was not irreparably harmed by the father’s action, even if it was humiliating.

Words from the higher court’s ruling are telling, with the panel stating that, even though it was hard for the court “to imagine a more improper or inappropriate” punishment, it was “reluctant to interfere with a fit parent’s constitutional right to parent.”

How a court will respond to such a matter in any given case will vary, of course, with family law being a highly subjective realm.

Questions or concerns regarding any parenting or child-related matter can be addressed to a proven family law attorney.

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