Custody Battle Boils Over Vegan Diet

ABC looks at the legality of the vegan lifestyle in a Florida custody case.

ByABC News
January 8, 2009, 12:18 AM

June 28, 2007 — -- Parents going through a child custody fight have said some unusual things to prove they are the better caretaker.

Take the case of the Nelson-Folkerson quintuplets. They may be part of the less than 1 percent of children in the United States on a strict vegan diet -- and their culinary habits are now at the center of their parents' bitter custody battle.

In this unusual custody fight in Florida, the quintuplets' father, Jeff Nelson-Folkerson, says in court papers that he should have custody of the 10-year-olds, citing his wife's "serious psychological control issues," first and foremost of which is imposing a strict vegan diet on the kids, a diet "so strict, in fact, that she rarely allows the children to visit their paternal grandparents because they have leather furniture in their home" and might let the children eat animal-based foods.

Nelson-Folkerson wants primary custody, or alternately joint custody, of all five children.

A strict vegan diet, which is an extension of vegetarianism, includes only foods that come from plants, such as fruit, grains, vegetables and legumes.

While it's unclear how significantly the children's diet or the mother's alleged control issues will play into the custody battle, the case raises other issues about health, ethics and parenting.

Neither Mr. nor Mrs. Nelson-Folkerson would comment on the case.

Legal experts told ABC News that the Nelson-Folkerson's fight sounds unusual -- but not surprising. Florida child custody laws give judges wide discretion in deciding who gets the kids. In custody hearings, these experts said, anything is possible.

"I've heard it all," said Thomas Sasser, chairman of the family law section of the Florida Bar. From complaints about a Christian Scientologist mother to a father who doesn't use appropriate sunscreen, parents will search for any excuse to be with their children.