What are the Legal Options When a Divorced Father Intentionally Feeds His Celiac Child Gluten?

celiac legal advice

Divorce is ugly. I get it. But I never understood why any parent would ever, and I mean EVER, take it out on his or her own children.

When you become a parent, your number one job is to protect that child. Period.

Which leads us to today’s Dear Gluten Dude, which I just received today but I thought it was so important to get this family help, I wanted to put it out there right away.

We have a divorced couple and one of their children just got diagnosed with celiac disease.

But it seems the father doesn’t believe in gluten-free for his celiac daughter so he loads her up on gluten.

(Dude note: You still think the Jimmy Fallon skit was funny??)

The mother wants to know what her legal options are.

Now it seems to me if she can prove this, the judge would deny him visitation rights. But I have exactly zero legal expertise so I am hoping by posting this letter, somebody qualified out there can help.

As always, your input is more than appreciated.

Here’s the plea for help.

I am hoping you can help me out. I have a friend who’s daughter was JUST diagnosed with Celiac. Her and hubby are divorcing. All the kids are lactose intolerant; he thinks this is all BS. Loads them up on dairy and he thinks gluten free is nonsense.

Do you know of ANY situations where a judge got involved insuring the kids ate right when with the other parent? She needs help or her daughter will never get better.

And she can’t legally deny visits even though he is deliberately hurting the kids giving them foods their tummies just can’t handle.

Any help would be GREATLY appreciated.

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39 thoughts on “What are the Legal Options When a Divorced Father Intentionally Feeds His Celiac Child Gluten?”

  1. To the mom: I would strongly suggest you find a local lawyer who specializes in family in your area. Practices vary from state to state, even judge to judge. I would try to help but I can’t give you good advice without knowledge of your area, etc. There are a lot of hoops that lawyers have to jump through before being able to help. I would guess there is probably some sort of legal clinic or hotline in your area that may be able to at least give you a consultation for free. If you can’t find anything, please email me and maybe I can point you in the right direction.

    1. Absolutely correct. If the child has a diagnosis and the father does not follow through, this is medical neglect and he is culpable. If there is Friend of the Court involved with this case, FOC needs to know IMMEDIATELY. I’d also recommend having her lawyer talk to his lawyer. Sometimes attorneys can do a better job of extricating someone’s cranium from his/her rectum…

    2. Yes. It is medical neglect. (I’m a lawyer, and I’ve done 350+ CPS cases.)

      However, because of that, I wouldn’t recommend calling Child Protective Services, because if where you are is like Texas, they’ll take the child from the mother as well.

      What I would do is find a family law attorney who specializes in custody and ask a judge for full custody with supervised visitation only. You would need a medical expert (a nurse practicioner, even) to testify as to the medical necessity of a gluten-free diet.

      In the alternative, many states now allow litigants to represent themselves. Go to your local county law library and ask them if you can file a custody suit, yourself.

      (This is not intended to constitute legal advice–I’m probably not licensed wherever y’all are.)

      1. My child has 6food allergies deadly allergic to peanuts his dad allowed him to play with a ginger bread cookie kit that contained peanuts and is consistently giving him food with corn and soy which is allergic to and was told inn moderation it’s ok(living a little) what i do call cps?

      2. Really Texas? I live in Texas and I was wondering the same thing I’m trying our daughter out on Lactose free milk to see if that will help her constipation and I was worried what kind of battle I would be in with her father. He doesn’t follow through on anything half the time, I’m still trying to get him on board with potty training, she turns 3 this month! And she’s getting UTIs cause of her poop getting into the front… I’m don’t know what to do. I’m her primary guardian and he is a cool parent. We are not married and not living together, do you have any suggestions?

  2. Yes there are actions! A lawyer is needed but here is the thing, the child has been diagnosed so there is proof, and if the father intentionally feeds the diagnosed child with gluten that is considered child endangerment. Now mom is well within her rights as the main custodial parent to request the courts to either make the father feed the child according to the strict dietary guidelines, only allow supervised visits if he doesn’t comply, and last and not least deny visitation period. Of course it all has to be done through the court system and maybe the mother should let him know those are the steps she will take in order to protect the child, he may see that as a threat, but isn’t the child’s safety worth it? Good luck! I really hope that this gets worked out for all involved

  3. No lawyer is needed, if she calls her local child protection agency and files a report that he is medically neglecting her. They can interfere from them on and work to make changes.

    1. I don’t recommend this route. This would actually result in antagonizing the situation and because the mother is the party in a divorce and not a mandated reporter, this would likely result in a non-investigation.

  4. I think this woman should find a family lawyer that specializes in abuse issues, because this is abuse. With the other children being lactose intolerant, and giving them dairy foods, he is clearly an asshole and f–ktard. If the kids were diabetic, he would feed them lots of sugar I’m sure. There are no words for this. I’m pissed off right now and want to go down his throat and rip his a–hole through his pie hole!!!

  5. She needs to consult a family lawyer, file a motion and ask for a custody review due to change of circumstances, citing medical neglect. They can ask for a new parenting plan. If that doesn’t work, her lawyer can ask for a 730 evaluation which can be pricey, but the evaluator will assess the best interest of child regarding custody and visitation.

  6. It certainly seems like medical neglect (I just read the law) and she should have the child’s doctor write a medical necessity letter.
    The Mom’s lawyer will have to put this into the divorce decree/child visitation agreement: that the child’s celiac disease requires treatment and must be followed under his care. Make sure they say she needs a strict gluten free diet. Period.

    MOM, have the other kids tested right now. Siblings should all be tested once one child is diagnosed.Children do not have “lactose intolerance” unless it is an inherited condition or they also have celiac.

    Any wavering from this is a violation of the agreement.
    The lawyer can figure out how to phrase it, but do not accept
    a “verbal agreement” that he’ll do it. He won’t.
    He already sounds like he does not give a shyte and I hardly think
    he’s going to change.

    Feeding gluten to that little girl is child abuse, IMHO..

  7. It is medical neglect as stated above, but if it were my child every time I got them back from the father and she was showing symptoms I would take her to the family Dr or an ER so it is documented over and over. The Dr will probably report it also and will certainly ask the child questions.

    1. YES, this is the best route. The doctor should be reporting this, not the mother. The doctor is a mandated reporter and this will bump the investigation further up the priority line than if the mother did the reporting.

      1. Claudette is correct. This is super-sad and needs to be changed but as soon as you say “divorce” the protective parent is automatically seen as a liar. It is horrible. Some other “authority” has to make the report. I discovered hallucinogenic drugs in my husband’s closet. I am terrified when we divorce that she will be in harms way. No one would even come to the house to investigate because it is “domestic”. I am on my third attorney. They don’t care. He won’t leave our house until the divorce is final. He has tried 5 times this month to get our 5 yr old peanut allergic daughter to eat peanuts. It is terrifying. At least I have it on audio (objective evidence) because I have learned my word is actually worse than saying nothing. He is either trying to harm her or terrify me, or both.

        1. My 1.5 year old is allergic to peanuts, eggs, etc. During visitation with his father, he attempts to serve him foods prepared with eggs or nuts. He has stated that he believes that I am exaggerating his allergic condition to keep him from his child. I have provided him documentation from my son’s doctor and even invited him to the appointment (which he declined to attend). Luckily I have a current order that I must approve the location for visitation. Since I do not approve of the location for visitation, I have denied any unsurpervised visitation and have a temporary agreement with my ex for visitation to be supervised by me. I do have recordings of him admitting that he and his family have attempted to serve our son foods with eggs and nuts, and that they must learn for themselves about his allergies by experiencing his allergic reactions, which can be potentially life threatening. Does this warrent emergency motions? Or should I just continue to wait for a trail date?

  8. More than medical neglect that shoukd be assult! Get an attorng asap! If money is an issue call around because in this case attorneys would work with you! If you tell the husband what you’re planning do it in writing. With someone like that you have to CYA.

  9. I showed this to my cousin who is a detective in Colorado and he said to call DHS immediately and to let your attorney know. At the very least it is neglect and the most child abuse or assault!

    1. Hi Angela. Do you know if the statute is still teh same in CO? MU son and I have been recently diagnosed, and since informing my ex, he has exclusively fed my son gluten based products on hi limited visilation

  10. Agreed with the above. Most states have a “best interests of the child” standard for care. If there is proof of diagnosis a lawyer should be able to file an urgent motion since it’s not something that can really wait. This is easier in some states than others. I know only of NJ and NY practices but its definitely something a lawyer can handle. Short of that, child protective services can be called, but once that’s out of the box it’s very hard to get them to close a case (for better or worse).
    Good luck!

    1. Unfortunately, Missouri for sure, and possibly other states, puts most weight on giving custody to “the parent who is most likely to encourage a relationship with the other parent”. I would’ve never believed this but it is happening to us. Protecting your child can actually harm your custody rights if it is their parent you are trying to protect them from.

  11. I’m not a lawyer, but from my experience this is child endangerment, you should try the police or local child services first, but don’t expect much. Before that you’ll need a verified diagnosis, that will hold up in court and some sort of proof that the other parent has been intentionally exposing the child and possibly a doctor’s statement of health risk and current level of trains to the child. If the authorities won’t act seek help in getting a restraining order through a victim assistance program. This will either order compliance or block access to the offending parent. You should probably then imitate actions through family court making a motion to comply with dietary restrictions, supervised parenting time, or loss of parenting time. The second is probably your best best and most judges will agree if you have proof. By them the other parent will probably promise to comply so have proof of breaking promises will then be important to make the case. To reduce your costs you can probably make these motions without a lawyer, just don’t get scared if he hires a lawyer and they attempts to intimidate you. You’re right, they’re wrong and there won’t be much a lawyer can do.

  12. It is covered under medical neglect but I suggest finding a very good lawyer to help and getting documentation up the wazoo from your doctor. My sister had an issue with an ex that didn’t believe in her daughter’s SEIZURE disorder!

    It’s hard to get visitation stopped but it could be if he goes against the court order. What a douche! It’s not going to be easy or easy to enforce…..make the dad go through training as part of the court order if possible and then slap him with a complaint each and every time he doesn’t follow the rules to the letter. DOCUMENT everything.

  13. I have inserted comments up above, but because this is my area of professional experience and research, here are my two cents’ worth.

    CPS does prioritized investigations. The moment one spouse calls on another, the priority is bumped very low on the basis that this is a strategic tactic and not a legitimate concern. They prioritize investigations based on the mandated reporter status of the person making the call. So if you really want CPS involved, under NO CIRCUMSTANCES should the parent make the call. Rather, the parent should have the child’s gastroenterologist make the call. That will be taken far more seriously. I mean this will all seriousness: the likelihood that this will be investigated if the child’s mother calls is nearly ZERO.

    Second, this needs to be followed up with the mother’s attorney, who should then contact the father’s attorney and also the probate judge to whom this case is assigned. You will need a court order to force adherence to the diet. Now, if CPS gets involved, and this becomes a neglect case as well as a divorce, then this should all be heard by the same judge as it is considered best practice for all cases about a particular family unit or individual member to be managed by the same judge. The judge probably knows what a piece of work the guy is, and if the father’s attorney is smart, he will advise his client to adhere to the diet for the reasons mentioned here – this IS medical neglect, and it can result in enforced supervised visitation if he won’t cooperate.

  14. The real motivation here is probably money. If the child has celiac, this can result in a re-calculation of child support to cover necessary expenses.

  15. Good advice from many above. The mother needs to file for an emergency protective order…we JUST went through this with my SO’s ex-wife. In her case it was complete ignorance, denial, laziness. She refused to let him take the children to get tested after waiting months for an appointment with a specialist, and after agreeing to Dr’s orders they should get checked out since it could be genetic. My SO is a Celiac and our household is 100% gluten free and the possibly lactose/casein intolerant one gets no dairy. Additionally, the fact that Celiac is recognized by the ADA & is actually an autoimmune disease & not just “an allergy” gives the “concerned,” “caring,” “protective” parent some leverage. As of Wednesday, the ex was court-ordered to adhere to the diet (despite the lack of a test at this point), let him take them to be tested, as well as attend educational health and wellness classes. She had a lawyer & my SO did not. He won better health for his kids.

  16. I an not an attorney however I do know law if that makes any sense.

    A judge will be only concerned with the welfare of the child and not addressing a known medical condition, ignoring it, not taking a doctor’s advice seriously would put the child and other children in harms way. Therefor either the judge can either demand that the father adheres to the seriousness of the conditions regardless of his personal opinion OR deny visitation rights due to the fact that he is not concerned “for the best interest of the kids”. Denied!

    Very simple. Some thought the earth was flat and would have bet the ranch on that concept. Some morons still think the news on TV is actually true, accurate and overall factual.

    Bottom line? Ignorance is bliss and personal opinions are meaningless. Besides what is next, kid breaks a leg and the father does not believe in going to a hospital because that is where most people go and die? Come on and read for Christ sake!


  17. I have a friend with the same problems. Her children keep a food diary when with their father. It is the only way he will comply.

    How old are the children? If it is possible, the children need to collect evidence when they are with him. Hire someone to follow him if they eat out? Just a suggestion.

    Hopefully she doesn’t live in a state that will take the children from her too, even though she is not responsible for her husband’s actions.

    If she lets the pediatrician know, he/she might be able to help. Invite the husband to a doctor’s visit.


    I’m gluten free and even as an adult, I face all sorts of crap from people who just don’t get it. I’ve been told to shut up about it. I missed the school thanksgiving dinner and then was asked why I didn’t go. I was actually nice since the person asking me is nice to me. But she did get an earful.

  18. I am going through a similar situation. The problem is that my daughter is not Celiac, but gluten intolerant. I have started documenting everything. CPS did absolutely nothing to help, and the lawyer told me that Gluten Intolerant is “too vague” I am wondering if it would still qualify as medical neglect and if I could file an emergency protection order.

    1. If you have a doctor who is willing to say that this is a legitimate diagnosis/condition and can make the call for you, then it doesn’t matter if it’s celiac or NCGS. But again… it HAS to be the doctor who makes the call. *You* can’t do it.The balance is, however, that if you start to push too hard to find a doctor who will confirm medical gluten intolerance, then you will be accused of being a hypochondriac or trying to abuse your child yourself. Let the professionals do what they’re paid for.

      If, however, there is no doctor to do this for you, then no amount of documentation on your side will do any good. This will be seen as a “lifestyle choice” and not a medical condition.

  19. Annette Peterson

    My kids and I were fairly newly diagnosed when I went thru my divorce and their dad was not really on board, stated that I exaggerated and generally was a bully. I had my lawyer write it into the divorce decree that he was obligated to feed them based on their medically required diet. My ex got ticked and insisted it had to be written in for both parties to adhere. No problem, jerk, I’m a Celiac, duh! Making it part of the divorce decree means you can bring him in front of the judge if he doesn’t stick to it. Good luck!

  20. I would love to say that the judge will get involved and help this child out, but that’s not always the reality. My son is corn, soy, tree nut and peanut allergic. His father continues to feed him these foods and he always comes back to me sick. Yes, it is medical neglect, but proving that is hard. Unless (and unfortunately until) I have proof that he is doing this, I can’t get help from the courts. Proof in my state apparently means actually ending up in the hospital with anaphylaxis or a doctor confirming this. He won’t come to doctor appointments and I have multiple witnesses, but it’s not enough yet. Unless he admits to it in court, the courts can be very unwilling/unable to help.

  21. My situation is similar but deals with our daughter’s severe cat and nut tree allergies. Her father wishes to take her away for the holidays to his family for a week and half where there’s a cat and there are pecan trees around the property of where the house is located. He and his mother are aware of our child’s severe allergies yet he insists to take her there. He also doesn’t like to carry her Epi-Pen on him (leaving them somewhere or his car while they are out and about). Many times we’ve told him that it could be too late to run back to wherever he keeps her Ep-Pen and bring to her when a severe reaction takes place. He just says, Epi-Pens are only needed for bee stings or eating peanuts. It is so frustrating! He and his mother think that just taking the cat out of the house and doing some cleaning/vacuuming will eradicate the allergens. From what I know of people who have severe cat allergies, that even when the cat was removed from the home months before, they still had bad allergic reactions. The dander sticks around for a while before it completely dissipates (sometimes weeks or months). I, too, am at loss as to what to do.

    I realize my reply is long after the original post. I do hope that things settled in your favor and in your child’s best interest.

  22. This is what I’m dealing with.
    But it gets complicated because my son is diagnosed with two food allergies: gluten and cane sugar, but only through holistic providers, and I think the courts won’t take the word of any “alternative” medicine.

    I am trying to figure out insurance for my son as at the moment I’m unemployed and according to the divorce I’m solely responsible for his insurance.

    But I have a bigger concern, I don’t think it’s beneficial for my son to have restricted and supervised visit with his dad. Emotionally would be a disaster. We have jointed custody and 50/50 time with him. I’m concerned about how will this affect my son if it comes down yo that. Other than feeding him crap, he is overall a good and involved dad.

  23. I have a similar question. I am going to be starting the divorce process soon. My soon to be ex on different occasions has chosen to not take my sons Epipen with him when they have gone out for ice cream or food (peanut/tree nut allergy). This has happened twice no matter how many times I try and educate and explain to him the severity of his decision. What can I do? Everything I read says to document. Should I call the police and file a report if it ever happens again? Or do I contact CPS? What can I do to protect my child when the person who should be protecting him doesn’t?

    1. I called CPS due to countless times that my ex did not carry my son’s epipen although we have written doctor’s orders and its’ the highest level allergy (>100.) However, CPS cannot take action unless the action has resulted in harm to the child. So, if the child did not have a reaction that required medical care, then it’s not a CPS case. If you know that your ex is with your son without an epipen, call the police and be able to provide doctor’s orders- you should have this filed with your local police department or wherever your ex resides.

      You can, and should, file in court based on medical neglect of your son. If you don’t and time passes then you can be seen as being negligent by not acting to protect your child, even if you took steps to try to ensure that he epipen was being carried.

      You will need documentation, so be prepared. Video and audio recordings may or may not be permitted. So, try to get text or email replies where your ex admits to not having it. Or at least a text where you are accusing him of not having the epipen with him while with your son, and him not responding to your text, or multiple texts- emails if possible. Your child’s testimony will not be able to be used in court. So, if there is an adult witness that can testify that he was without the epipen, that will be helpful.

      Also, make sure that your custody agreement requires you and your ex to carry benadryl and epipen at all times. If he doesn’t do it, he will be risking his custody rights.

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I AM someone who's been gluten-free since 2007 due to a diagnosis of severe celiac disease. I'm someone who can steer you in the right direction when it comes to going gluten-free. And I'm someone who will always give you the naked truth about going gluten free.

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