Father Sues for Custody of His Daughter After She Appears on Television Program "Toddlers and Tiaras"

August 23, 2012
By Thomas M. Huguenor on August 23, 2012 12:25 PM |

772163_27795068.jpgA father is asking a judge in Kentucky to award him sole custody of his six year-old daughter. He filed a complaint after his child appeared on a cable television show that, many critics contend, sexualizes young children by showing them in beauty pageants. The father, who reportedly has his own history of legal troubles, must convince the judge that the pageant activities and television appearances, as directed by the mother, are harming his daughter, and that awarding him custody would be in her best interest.

The cable network TLC premiered "Toddlers and Tiaras" in January 2009 to showcase child beauty pageants. Contestants in these pageants may be as young as four or five but compete in seemingly "adult" attire, including makeup, gowns, and high heels. Lindsay Jackson reportedly began entering her daughter, Maddy Verst, in pageants when she was thirteen months old. The current controversy may have begun when Maddy appeared on "Toddlers and Tiaras" at the age of five last year. Maddy was dressed as Dolly Parton, complete with padding meant to imitate the famously voluptuous singer's figure. The girl appeared on the cover of People magazine with a headline that read "Gone Too Far?"

Maddy’s father, Bill Verst, petitioned a court in Kentucky for sole custody. He is claiming, in part, that Maddy’s appearance in beauty pageants and on the television show, particularly her Dolly Parton performance, constitutes sexual exploitation by her mother. Jackson states that the costume was intended to be humorous, not sexual, and that it should not be a factor in any custody determination.

At a hearing on August 18, 2012, a court-appointed psychologist testified in favor of awarding sole custody to Verst, specifically referencing the Dolly Parton outfit. The judge imposed a gag order on Jackson preventing her from discussing the case publicly. The judge also banned Maddy from participating in any pageant activity, including the television show, while the case is pending. The judge may make a final decision as to custody at an August 31 hearing. Jackson has spoken about how much Maddy loves doing pageants and how she thinks it would hurt Maddy to be required to stop. Verst has some problems of his own that he may need to address at the hearing, as he has a felony conviction and is reportedly on probation for driving under the influence and child endangerment.

Child custody law varies from one state to another, but a common feature is a focus on a child’s best interests. This is a very loosely-defined term that relies, to a very large extent, on a judge’s discretion after considering the facts of a child’s situation. Judges must often make a determination as to which parent can provide the best care for the child, considering factors like home environment, schools, and extracurricular activities. The parents’ own lifestyles, and their pasts, are obviously relevant, too. Maddy’s case is not unusual at all in the sense that it pits two competing parenting styles, or even values, against one another. It is only the details of her case that seem outrageous to many.

Thomas Huguenor is a divorce and child custody lawyer certified by the State of California. For more than 35 years, he has represented people in San Diego finding their way through the California divorce process. For a free and confidential consultation, contact him today online, or by calling (858) 458-9500.

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Man Who Abandoned His Son to Move to California is Denied Visitation and Custody, San Diego Divorce Attorney Blog, February 29, 2012

Photo credit: 'Childs objects' by ratzz on stock.xchng.