Tag: child custody and religion

Shucking Child Custody and Freedom of Speech

Constitutional guarantees of freedom of speech and child custody rights are in for a shucking when an Indiana family court modifies a marital settlement agreement. Years after a divorce, one of the parents discovers religion. The parents end up back in court on a petition to modify custody and prohibit a parent from talking about religion.

Going Back To Indiana

The parents of a daughter were divorced in September 2012 after the trial court accepted the parties’ settlement agreement. Pursuant to their agreement, the parties shared joint legal custody of the Child, the Father paid weekly child support, the Mother was the Child’s primary physical custodian, and Father exercised parenting time.

Then in 2022, the Mother filed a petition to modify, asserting a substantial change in circumstances in that she and the Child changed churches, and she and the Child now attend Seymour Christ Temple Apostolic.

Since changing churches, the Child stopped painting her nails and now wears only long skirts. The Child attends church three times a week, on Sunday morning and Sunday evening for services and on Thursday night for youth group.

The Mother admitted the Child was baptized without informing Father until after the baptism occurred. Mother testified she wanted the trial court to modify the parenting time to eliminate the Father’s ability to question the Child’s religion or try to talk the Child into believing that there is no God.

The Father testified he is an agnostic. He denied telling Child “there wasn’t a God” and testified he had not tried to “convince her the church she goes to isn’t something she should be attending. He said he wanted Child to make her own choice about religion.

The judge conducted an in camera interview with Child, and concluded:

The Court finds that [Child] has made an independent well-reasoned decision about her faith, which should be respected and encouraged.

The Court awarded the Mother sole legal custody of the Child, primary physical custody, and ordered that the Father shall not discuss religion with Child. The Father appealed.

Florida Child Custody and Free Speech

I’ve written about free speech in family cases before. Family courts have a lot of power to protect children. Florida courts have to balance a parent’s right of free expression against the state’s parens patriae interest in assuring the well-being of minor children.

In Florida, there have been cases in which a judge prohibited a parent from speaking Spanish to a child. A mother went from primary caregiver to only supervised visits – under the nose of a time-sharing supervisor. The trial judge also allowed her daily telephone calls with her daughter, supervised by the Father, and ordered:

“Under no circumstances shall the Mother speak Spanish to the child.”

The judge was concerned about the Mother’s comments, after the Mother “whisked” the child away from the time-sharing supervisor in an earlier incident and had a “private” conversation with her in a public bathroom. The Mother was also bipolar and convicted of two crimes. The Florida appeals court reversed the restriction. Ordering a parent not to speak Spanish violates the freedom of speech and right to privacy.

Florida law tries to balance the burden placed on the right of free expression essential to the furtherance of the state’s interests in promoting the best interests of children. In other words, in that balancing act, the best interests of children can be a compelling state interest justifying a restraint of a parent’s right of free speech.

“Ope, sorry!”

On appeal, the Father argued the family judge erred when it modified custody based solely on religious beliefs and prohibited him from talking about religion with his Child.

In Indiana “religion” is not one of the statutory factors a trial court must consider when making a decision to modify child custody. Modifying custody based entirely on religion then – even if the Child expressed an interest in participating in religious activities at a church – was not a substantial change in circumstances to justify changing custody.

The appellate court also found the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution – which prohibit the government from restricting expression because of its message, its ideas, its subject matter, or its content- was also violated.

In this case, the family court judge never found the Father was discussing religion with Child in a way that had a negative impact on her. The Mother testified Child “cries is withdrawn presents with a rash and/or hives, and her face is puffy” after visiting with Father. However, Mother did not specifically attribute Child’s reactions to discussions of religion between Father and Child.

The Mother did not testify about a specific instance during which Father spoke to Child about religion in general, much less a time when Father disparaged Child’s religious views or attempted to persuade Child there was not a God. For his part, the Father testified he never told the Child there was no God. In fact, he wanted the Child to make her own choices about religion.

Even if the Child had reported that Father was disparaging her religious views and telling her there was no God, the trial court’s total prohibition of Father’s right to discuss religion with Child is not narrowly tailored to further the State’s compelling interest in protecting Child’s welfare.

The family court judge’s order totally prohibiting Father from discussing religion with Child violated his right to free speech under the First Amendment. Because the appellate court reversed, it decided it did not need not address whether the order also violated his freedom of religion argument.

The Court of Appeals of Indiana opinion is here.

Child Custody and Trial by Combat

While most issues in child custody cases are settled, those which are not are decided in a bench trial – a trial presided over by a judge. Family cases are not generally tried by jury. One man, however, asked for a seldom seen alternative resolution for his case: trial by combat.

Child custody trial

Child Custody but with Honor

The father, in a motion he filed in court, asked the presiding family judge to allow him to fight his former wife and her attorney in a duel, so he can “rend their souls” from their bodies.

The father also asked the court to give him 12 weeks “lead time” in order to buy or forge two Samurai swords. The father wanted help resolving his dispute of reasonable telephone and video communication with the children. The father also asked for money from his ex-wife to pay for property taxes of their former house.

“Trial by combat was still regarded as a legitimate method for dispute resolution when the Constitution was ratified by the United States and by the original 13 colonies. To this day, trial by combat has never been explicitly banned or restricted as a right in these United States.”

Court records in the case since the parties’ initial filing are filled with assertions by the father that his communication with the children is lacking when the children are with his ex-wife, who has primary physical care.

When asked, the father told the Des Moines Register that he got the idea after reading about a 2016 case in New York. Apparently, New York Supreme Court Justice, Philip G. Minardo, acknowledged in an order that, in theory, the court had the power to permit a trial by combat.

The New York Supreme Court considered the issue after a Staten Island lawyer asked the judge to authorize trial by combat. The request for trial by combat was sought to resolve a civil suit for damages. The movant felt trial by combat would clear the lawyer’s good name, after the lawyer was accused of helping a client fraudulently transfer assets.

Florida Child Custody

I’ve written about child custody before – especially about problems parents were having during the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. Unlike Iowa for example, Florida does not use the term “custody” anymore. Florida has the parenting plan concept. For purposes of establishing a parenting plan, the best interest of the child is the primary consideration.

In Florida, the best interests of the child are determined by evaluating all of the factors affecting the welfare and interests of the particular minor child and the circumstances of that family, including the mental and physical health of the parents.

Some of those factors include the demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing parent-child relationship, to honor the time-sharing schedule, and to be reasonable when changes are required, and of course, the mental and physical health of the parents. None of the statutory factors involve Samurai swords.

Till Death Do Us Part

In what can only be described as a shameful day for the entire legal profession, the ex-wife’s attorney chickened out:

“Although the respondent and potential combatant do have souls to be rended, they respectfully request that the court not order this done. We humbly request the court deny this motion, as the potentially life-ending ramifications surely outweigh the severity of the petitioner’s proposed legal remedy of trying to avoid responsibility for property taxes and to acquire additional telephonic communication.”

The family judge was not amused, temporarily suspended the father’s visitation, and ordered a psychological evaluation.

The evaluation determined he is not troubled, but has “adjustment disorder with mixed emotional features,” the father told he Des Moines Register. “It essentially says I’m not crazy, I just don’t like being denied access to my children,” he said.

The Des Moines Register article is here.

Child Custody and Transgender Identity

A recent child custody case in Indiana tries to balance the parents’ constitutional rights to free speech and religion against a child’s transgender identity. The state of Indiana removed a child from the parents over how the parents dealt with their child’s transgender identity. Then, the Court of Appeals of Indiana was asked to weigh in.

Custody Transgender Identity

Custody in the Crossroads of America

The case started in May 2021, when the Department of Child Services (“DCS”) received a report alleging that the mother was verbally and emotionally abusing her 16-year-old child by using rude and demeaning language regarding the teen’s transgender identity. As a result, the teenager had thoughts of self-harm.

Ten days later, DCS received a second report alleging both parents were involved in being verbally and emotionally abusive because they do not accept their child’s transgender identity — and the abuse was getting worse.

A case manager investigated, and reported the child had been suffering from an eating disorder. The other findings included that the parents had withdrawn the child from school and DCS was unaware of the intent to enroll the child in a new school; they had discontinued the child’s therapy; the child did not feel mentally and/or emotionally safe , and would be more likely to have thoughts of self-harm and suicide if returned.

DCS filed a petition alleging the child’s physical or mental condition was seriously impaired or seriously endangered due to the parents’ neglect and/or the child’s physical or mental health was seriously endangered due to injury by the parents’ acts or omissions.

The juvenile court issued an order finding that it was in the child’s best interest to be removed from the home due to the parents’ “inability, refusal or neglect to provide shelter, care, and/or supervision at the present time.”

At the close of a subsequent hearing, the court informed the parties that it would leave in place its earlier order prohibiting the parents from discussing the child’s transgender identity during visitation, found the child needed services and therapy, in which the parents were ordered to participate and ordered that the child would remain in the current home or placement with DCS supervision.

The parents appealed, claiming the order was clearly erroneous, violated their constitutional rights to the care, custody and control of their child, and violated their rights to the free exercise of religion and freedom of speech.

Florida Child Custody

I’ve written about child custody and issues involving the constitution before, primarily between the parents. The case in Indiana however, is not between the child’s parents, but between the parents and the State of Indiana.

Other cases can involve disputes between parents over how to handle the social gender transition of a child. In Florida shared parental responsibility is the preferred relationship between parents. In fact, courts are instructed to order parents to share parental responsibility of a child unless it would be detrimental to the child.

Issues relating to a child’s health are major decisions affecting the welfare of a child. When parents cannot agree, the dispute is resolved in court. At the trial, the test applied is the best interests of the child.

Determining the best interests of a child is based on an evaluation of statutory factors, and one equitable catch-all factor, affecting the welfare and interests of the child and the circumstances of the child’s family.

The statute authorizes one parent to have ultimate responsibility for certain decisions. For example, health care is an area of ultimate responsibility a court can award. When a decision on health goes to trial, the court grants one parent ultimate responsibility to make that decision.

Hoosiers or Abusers?

The Court of Appeals rejected the parents’ religious freedom arguments. The Father testified that the parents were not allowed to affirm their child’s transgender identity, or use their child’s preferred pronouns, based on their sincerely held religious beliefs.

But the appellate court found that the order was based on the child’s medical and psychological needs, not on the parents’ disagreement with the child’s transgender identity. Put differently, the child’s removal was not based on the fact the parents didn’t accept the child’s transgender identity, and their future reunification was not contingent on the parents violating their religious beliefs or being forced to affirm the child’s transgender identity.

Accordingly, the order did not impose a substantial burden on their free exercise of religion. Moreover, the appellate panel found that protecting the child’s health and welfare was a compelling interest justifying state action that is contrary to the parents’ religious beliefs.

The Court of Appeals also rejected the parents’ freedom of speech arguments. The trial court recognized that the child’s eating disorder and self-isolation were connected to the discord at home about the child’s transgender identity.

Accordingly, the trial court’s limitation on the parents from discussing the topic directly targets the State’s compelling interest in addressing the child’s eating disorder and psychological health, as opposed to the content of the parents’ speech itself.

The order was found to be narrowly tailored because it restricted the parents from discussing the topic with the child only during visitation. However, the order permitted the topic to be discussed in family therapy.

Limiting the parents to only discussing the issue in family therapy was seen to allow the family to work on conflict management, so that they will eventually be able to safely talk about it outside of therapy. Accordingly, the order restricting conversation of this topic outside of family therapy was a permissible prior restraint.

The Court of Appeals of Indiana opinion is here.

Interfaith Marriage and Divorce

Increasingly, couples are in interfaith marriages, meaning each person is from a different religion. Along with societal disapproval, are there any other possible problems a couple in an interfaith marriage face that could lead to divorce? A recent Indian case sheds some light.

Interfaith Marriage

Gujarat

India is a country of many religions. In the western state of Gujarat, roughly 88.6 percent of the population is Hindu and about 9.7 percent are Muslim. Recently, a division bench of the Gujarat High Court granted relief to an interfaith couple – but then went on to caution the wife’s parents not to “misbehave” due to their opposition to the interfaith marriage.

The order prohibiting in-law misbehavior concerns the marriage of a 26-year-old Muslim man to a 20-year-old Hindu woman under the Special Marriage Act in Ahmedabad in May 2021. The Special Marriage Act is a law that allows solemnization of marriages irrespective of the religion of the couple.

The Act also requires parties to give a 30-day public notice of their intention to marry. The public notice is displayed at the office of the marriage officer, inviting potential objections to the marriage.

However, the woman’s parents were opposed to the marriage and, the couple decided that the woman will stay at her parental home until their approval.

According to the court petition, the woman was subjected to physical and mental cruelty by her father over the marriage. Then, in December 2021, the woman left her home willingly and started residing at her matrimonial house.

The court also directed the woman’s parents to share the books and clothes of the woman that are in the parents’ possession as the woman is “desirous of continuing her studies,” while disposing the petition.

Interfaith Marriages

I have written about religion and divorce before. Marrying within the faith is still common in the United States, with nearly seven-in-ten married people (69%) saying that their spouse shares their religion, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey.

A comparison of recent and older marriages shows that having a spouse of the same religion may be less important to many Americans today than it was decades ago.

The Pew Religious Landscape Study found that almost four-in-ten Americans (39%) who have married since 2010 have a spouse who is in a different religious group. By contrast, only 19% of those who wed before 1960 report being in a religious intermarriage.

Some research suggested that marriages between members of the same religious group may be more durable than intermarriages. If this is true, the rise in religious intermarriage over time may not be as pronounced as it appears, since the Religious Landscape Study measures only marriages intact today.

Other surveys looking at divorce rates did not find an overall lower – higher divorce rate among interfaith couples. But did find that certain combinations made it much more likely that the marriage would end in divorce.

The most likely interfaith marriages to end in divorce were Evangelicals married to someone of no faith. This may simply be the case that the further apart the religions, the more likely divorce may be.

Interfaith India

The woman’s father, however, then filed a “false complaint” with the Danilimda police station alleging that his daughter left the house with cash and ornaments.

In response, the police visited the house of the husband and “started harassing the family members of the petitioner (husband) in order to get custody” of his wife. To “avoid unnecessary harassment by the police”, the couple left for Ajmer in Rajasthan.

The police soon brought the couple back to Danilimda police station and “illegally and arbitrarily” took the woman in custody. Following production before a magistrate court, was housed at Nari Vikas Gruh in Paldi.

The magistrate court subsequently handed over custody of the woman to her parents. Soon, represented by advocate Rafik Lokhandwala, the petitioner-husband moved the Gujarat HC with a habeas corpus petition.

The Indian Express article is here.

Family Court and Religious School

In a race between schools for your child, when can a family court judge choose the religious school over a secular one? For one Kentucky family’s child custody dispute, the court of appeals decides which school enters the Winner’s Circle.

Custody and School

Starting Gate

In the Kentucky case, a Mother and Father shared joint custody of their daughter, who has been at the center of a protracted legal dispute since the parties’ separation in 2016. The parties could not reach an agreement as to where the child should attend kindergarten, and asked the court to resolve the issue.

The Father, who is Catholic, liked that Seton was a Catholic school but noted that the curriculum also emphasized general Christian principles, as well as secular subjects such as Darwinism and evolution (ed. wow)

Father said that he was willing to pay Seton tuition costs. Father expressed concern about child attending Berea Independent due to Mother’s pending criminal charges in Berea for second-degree animal cruelty. Because Berea is a small community, Father worried child could be stigmatized, even if Mother was acquitted.

Mother, who is Baptist, was not comfortable with child attending a Catholic school and preferred that child attend a secular school. Mother testified that Berea Independent was her primary choice because it was less than a mile from her work, was in a small town, and was where she went to school as a child. She also liked that it provided a K-12 grade education in one place and liked the open classroom layout of the school.

Following the hearing, the family court judge entered an order with detailed findings of fact, concluding that it was in child’s best interest to attend Catholic school.

The Mother appealed.

Florida Divorce and Religion

I have written about the intersection of religion and custody before, especially when that intersection relates to harm to the child. For example in one area there is a frequent religious controversy: whether to give a child their mandatory vaccinations.  Usually, religion is used by the objecting parent as a defense to vaccinating children.

Whenever a court decides custody, the sine qua non is the best interests of the child. But, deciding the religious upbringing of a child puts the court in a tough position.

There is nothing in the Florida custody statute allowing a court to consider religion as a factor in custody, and a court’s choosing one parent’s religious beliefs over another’s, probably violates the Constitution.

So, unless there is actual harm being done to the child by the religious upbringing, it would seem that deciding the child’s faith is out of bounds for a judge. One of the earliest Florida case in which religion was a factor in deciding parental responsibility restricted one parent from exposing the children to that parent’s religion.

In one Florida case, the Mother was a member of The Way International, and the Father introduced evidence that The Way made the Mother an unfit parent. He alleged The Way psychologically brainwashed her, that she had become obsessed, and was neglecting the children. The Florida judge awarded custody to the Mother provided that she sever all connections, meetings, tapes, visits, communications, or financial support with The Way, and not subject the children to any of its dogmas.

The Mother appealed the restrictions as a violation of her free exercise of religion. The appellate court agreed, and held the restrictions were unconstitutionally overbroad and expressly restricted the Mother’s free exercise of her religious beliefs and practices.

When the matter involves the religious training and beliefs of the child, the court generally does not make a decision in favor of a specific religion over the objection of the other parent. The court should also avoid interference with the right of a parent to practice their own religion and avoid imposing an obligation to enforce the religious beliefs of the other parent.

The Home Stretch

Mother argued on appeal that the family court’s order compels her to send her child to a Catholic school she is conscientiously opposed to in violation of her constitutional rights.

The appellate court found that when parties to a joint custody agreement are unable to agree on a major issue concerning their child’s upbringing, the trial court must evaluate the circumstances and resolve the issue according to the child’s best interest.

The appellate court found substantial evidence to support the family court’s decision that sending child to Catholic school was in child’s best interest. The court specifically mentioned the school’s proximity to the interstate, its later start time, its teacher-to-student ratio, its on-site aftercare program, and the fact that child would know other students attending.

Perhaps most importantly, the family court felt it was not in child’s best interest to attend the secular, Berea Independent because of the possibility that child might experience negative social stigma due to Mother’s pending animal cruelty case in Berea.

Further, the trial court specifically noted its decision was not based upon religious interests. Mother “bear[s] the burden of proving that the decision of the trial court was based upon religious interests and such impropriety [will] not be presumed merely because the school selected had a religious connotation in addition to its academic offerings.”

The Kentucky Court of Appeals opinion can be found here.

False Abuse Allegations in Child Custody Cases

False allegations of abuse can be a form of alienation, and can occur during any divorce and child custody proceeding. Identifying warning signs, and knowing how the courts and laws protect against false abuse allegations, are ways to protect yourself.

False Abuse

False Abuse Claims

If a parent makes a false allegation against another parent to get the upper hand in court, they can badly undermine the parent-child relationship and use the court as a weapon to make the damage last longer.

How often do false claims happen? Accurate statistics are not known, but some have given estimates ranging from 2% to 35%. The wide range in the statistics can depend on several factors, including whether the child is reporting or a parent, and the audience.

Whatever the percentage of false claims, attorneys, judges, and mental health experts all know firsthand that it is a big problem in family court. Nothing can disrupt, sidetrack, or impede a case more than an allegation of abuse that eventually proves to be false.

Detecting a false allegation is critical because judges can be influenced by the accusation, even if it is not substantiated by the evidence. Sadly, a child custody decision could result in favor of the falsely accusing parent. Uncovering and exposing a false allegation is vital in making sure the offending parent is not rewarded for destructive behavior.

False allegations of abuse are often made during contentious child custody cases. One parent believes that he or she will gain leverage in the case by lodging an allegation of abuse against the other parent. More often than not, the allegation of abuse is a tactic used to alienate the child from the targeted parent. In other words, it is part of parental alienation. A number of steps can be taken by the targeted parent to beat the false allegation of abuse.

Florida False Abuse Claims

I have written on fraud in divorce and child custody cases before. False allegations of abuse can become the nuclear bomb of divorce and child custody cases, as Florida requires mandatory reporting of child abuse by judges and others.

There are protections and penalties for creating false abuse claims. For example, anyone who knowingly and willfully makes a false report, or counsels another to make a false report can be guilty of a felony.

In addition to criminal penalties, a false allegation can harm your child custody case too. When a court creates, or modifies a parenting plan, including a time-sharing schedule, the court must make the best interest of the child the primary consideration.

Determining the best interests of the child requires a judge to evaluate all of the factors affecting the welfare and interests of a child, including, but not limited to evidence that a parent has knowingly provided false information to the court regarding domestic violence, sexual violence, child abuse, child abandonment, or child neglect.

Self-Protection

As in all matters, protecting yourself requires some work. Try to collect as much documentation as possible to disprove the allegation. Typically these include emails, texts, photos and more.

Research hiring mental health experts who can address false allegations, parental alienation, and the particular facts in a case. Forensic experts are an invaluable resource to help you in court.

False allegations of abuse are considered parental alienation. The intent of the alienating parent is to disrupt a child’s relationship with the targeted parent. Alienation is at the heart of false claims.

The Psychiatric Times article is here.

Court Orders Covid Vaccination of Children

In a child custody case in Kentucky, a family court orders the COVID vaccination of two small children. Last week a Kentucky appellate court decided the important issue of whether the family court judge was legally entitled to require the COVID vaccinations for the children over one parent’s objection.

Kentyck covid

The COVID Vaccine Derby

Recently Canada resolved the issue over whether an unvaccinated parent can actually lose their child custody rights for refusing to vaccinate their child. This week’s issue is slightly different, can the court require a vaccination over another parent’s strongly held religious views and objection.

In the Kentucky case, the parties had divorced in 2018. They shared joint custody and equal timesharing of their two children, aged eight and six. Throughout their marriage, and divorce, the parents always declined the required immunizations for their children on religious grounds.

In fact, there was proof that they had signed affidavits in New York and Georgia declining vaccinations for their children on religious grounds and when they divorced, they signed Kentucky’s form for declining immunizations on religious grounds.

However, two years later, the father had a change of heart. On June 30, 2020, he filed a motion for an order to allow him to vaccinate the children. The Mother objected, and a hearing was held in Family Court to resolve the question.

The Father testified that he originally agreed not to vaccinate the children because he was leaving for deployment with the military and was unable to meet with the pediatrician. He thought there was an understanding the parties would just delay the vaccines.

But, after he finished his military service, he began discussions with Mother regarding vaccinations for the children. Father stated that when he signed the vaccination declination affidavit he had doubts about the development of certain vaccines by use of aborted fetal cells.

Now he believes the use of aborted fetal cells is so far removed from the process of developing vaccines that his concerns no longer exist. He believes it is appropriate to vaccinate the children. He wants to follow the advice of the children’s pediatrician to vaccinate.

The Mother vehemently objected saying that doing so violates her firmly held religious convictions opposing the use of aborted fetal cells in the manufacture and design of the vaccines. Rather, she prefers using medication and antibiotics to treat her children. She argues there was an understanding between her and Father that the children should not be vaccinated and produced multiple documents the parties signed to that effect.

Florida Child Vaccinations

I’ve written about the injection of vaccines into Florida child custody cases before. In Florida, the prevailing standard for determining “custody” is a concept call shared parental responsibility, or sole parental responsibility. Generally, shared parental responsibility is a relationship ordered by a court in which both parents retain their full parental rights and responsibilities.

Under shared parental responsibility, parents are required to confer with each other and jointly make major decisions affecting the welfare of their child. In Florida, shared parental responsibility is the preferred relationship between parents when a marriage or a relationship ends. In fact, courts are instructed to order parents to share parental responsibility of a child unless it would be detrimental to the child.

Issues relating to a child’s physical health and medical treatment, including the decision to vaccinate, are major decisions affecting the welfare of a child. When parents cannot agree, the dispute is resolved in court.

At the trial, the test applied is the best interests of the child. Determining the best interests of a child is no longer entirely subjective. Instead, the decision is based on an evaluation of certain factors affecting the welfare and interests of the child and the circumstances of the child’s family.

In Florida, a court can carve out an exception to shared parental responsibility, giving one parent “ultimate authority” to make decisions, such as the responsibility for deciding on vaccinations.

The decision to vaccinate raises interesting family law issues. It is important to know what your rights and responsibilities are in Florida and other states.

Kentucky Fried Covid

The family court trial judge ruled it was in the children’s best interest to be vaccinated. The judge reasoned that, on balance, the children’s health and welfare outweighed the religious beliefs of one parent.

The court ordered that the parties consult with the pediatrician to craft a “catch-up” schedule bringing the children current on vaccinations and other immunizations, or, if the parties were able, to agree to alternative vaccines that could potentially be utilized that do not use aborted fetal cells in their development and design.

In affirming the trial judge’s ruling on appeal, the appellate court noted the overriding principle that the best interest of each child must be served by the family court’s decision.

The mother’s argument did not articulate any detriment or risk of harm to her children by not vaccinating them. The father simply argued her religious views should not take precedence over his.

The court ruled that when there is an impasse between a Mother and Father a family court properly can ‘break the tie’. Equal decision-making power is not required for joint custody, and parties or trial courts are free to vest greater authority in one parent even under a joint custody arrangement.

The family court heard from both the Mother and Father, and found that it would be in the children’s best interest to be vaccinated in accordance with their pediatrician’s recommendations and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines.

The Kentucky appellate opinion is here.

Custody Rights and the Unvaccinated Parent

Whether an unvaccinated parent can lose their child custody rights is a painful topic these days given the talk of vaccine mandates around the world. The United States is not alone in countries where people have pointed positions on vaccine mandates. A court in Canada was recently left to make a painful decision about custody rights and an unvaccinated parent.

Custody Vaccination

A Shot of the Constitution

In the United States, making the COVID vaccine mandatory has become more of a constitutional issue than a public health one. The issue has become especially sharp in child custody cases. Parents have a fundamental right to raise their children, but there can be exceptions. Courts have had a difficult time threading the needle when parents disagree about vaccinations.

These issues are not just in the United States either. The Ontario Court of Justice recently had to decide whether a father’s decision to remain unvaccinated against COVID should deprive him of his parenting time.

In L.S. v. M.A.F., the mother sought an order that the father’s parenting time be supervised. Why? The mother claimed that due to the father’s significant anger management issues, she feared for the child’s safety if left alone with him.

The mother also said she trusted the paternal grandmother and the father’s sister to supervise the father’s parenting time. The father opposed and sought liberal and unsupervised parenting time with his child.

During cross examination, the father revealed that he was not vaccinated against COVID-19. He also had no intention to get vaccinated, claiming that it was contrary to his Rastafarian beliefs, for which the court notes he did not provide evidence.

He was nevertheless willing to take safety precautions during his parenting times, for example, wearing a mask. He also attested that the paternal grandmother is fully vaccinated and that he is comfortable with taking the child to her home.

Citing Justice Robert Spence in his decision in A.G. v. M.A., 2021 ONCJ 531, the court said that there were competing interests at stake: on the one hand, parenting time increased the child’s risk of infection for COVID-19, and on the other, the child is entitled to have a meaningful relationship with her father.

Florida Vaccination

I’ve written about the injection of vaccines into Florida child custody cases before. In Florida, the prevailing standard for determining “custody” is a concept call shared parental responsibility, or sole parental responsibility. Generally, shared parental responsibility is a relationship ordered by a court in which both parents retain their full parental rights and responsibilities.

Under shared parental responsibility, parents are required to confer with each other and jointly make major decisions affecting the welfare of their child. In Florida, shared parental responsibility is the preferred relationship between parents when a marriage or a relationship ends. In fact, courts are instructed to order parents to share parental responsibility of a child unless it would be detrimental to the child.

Issues relating to a child’s physical health and medical treatment, including the decision to vaccinate, are major decisions affecting the welfare of a child. When parents cannot agree, the dispute is resolved in court.

At the trial, the test applied is the best interests of the child. Determining the best interests of a child is no longer entirely subjective. Instead, the decision is based on an evaluation of certain factors affecting the welfare and interests of the child and the circumstances of the child’s family.

In Florida, a court can carve out an exception to shared parental responsibility, giving one parent “ultimate authority” to make decisions, such as the responsibility for deciding on vaccinations. The Chicago case, however, involves a parent’s refusal to vaccinate herself.

The decision to vaccinate raises interesting family law issues. It is important to know what your rights and responsibilities are in Florida and other states.

Getting to the Point

The court agreed with the mother that it is in the best interest of the child to have a meaningful relationship with her father.

But, after evaluating the evidence, the court concluded that it was necessary for the father’s parental time to be supervised by the paternal grandmother or his sister, both of whom are vaccinated and willing to supervise the father’s parenting time.

The father had very little parenting experience and knowledge of the child’s needs, which can be compensated by the experience of the paternal grandmother or his sister, said the court. The court also considered the father’s little control over his temper and becomes verbally abusive and threatening when angered, and the presence of a third party can ensure that the child is removed from any situation should the father lose control of his temper.

To reduce the risk of the child contracting COVID-19, the court-imposed restrictions upon the father’s parenting time, including that it shall be exercised either outdoors or in the paternal grandmother’s home and that both father and child shall always wear masks.

The court also ruled that should the father become fully vaccinated, the restrictions shall no longer apply, but if these restrictions are violated, the mother may suspend his in-person parenting time.

Canada’s Law Times article is here.

 

Recognizing International Divorce Decrees

Turkey’s Court of Cassation is not recognizing the international divorce decrees of other countries if they are against public policy. Turkey’s high court recently threw out a lower court verdict that a man’s divorce from his wife in Saudi Arabia is valid in Turkey. The “triple talaq”, or “unilateral” divorce contradicted with “Turkish public order as it ignored the woman’s will.”

Coffee Grounds for Divorce

A Marmara Marriage

The Supreme Court of Appeals of Turkey, which was founded in 1868, is the last instance for reviewing verdicts given by courts of criminal and civil justice. The Supreme Court recently announced that it is rejecting a verdict related to a 2016 divorce case approved by a Family Court in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. The sides were a Turkish citizen of Afghan origin and his wife, an Afghan citizen.

When the man, unidentified in court documents made public, filed a lawsuit for recognition of the divorce, a local court approved it. However, the wife took the case to a higher court, seeking to annul the divorce. The higher court of appeals rejected her appeal but the Court of Cassation, the ultimate authority in such cases, sided with the woman.

The court reasoned that although divorce cases settled abroad can be recognized in Turkey, the court should examine whether the divorce verdicts comply with “basic values of Turkish law, Turkish morals, basic rights and freedoms and shared values of developed communities and level of civilization.”

The top court said women and men have equal rights under the Turkish constitution. “The recognized verdict of (the Saudi) court is based on a document on talaq (unilateral divorce) and the wife is deemed divorced after a period of three months when she is not reunited with her husband. As a matter of fact, there is no divorce verdict in this case.

Such a verdict is based on a one-sided declaration of the husband and his claim of failure to reunion within three months ignores the woman’s free will and hence, openly contradicts with Turkish public order,” the court said.

Florida Religion and Divorce

I’ve written about the triple talaq and other aspects of religious divorces before. How does religion impact Florida divorce? First, there can be issues relating to parental responsibility Religion, religious beliefs, and religious practices are not specific statutory factors in determining parental responsibility. Nor are religion and religious practices areas in which a parent may be granted ultimate responsibility. Instead, the weight religion plays in custody disputes incubated over time in various cases.

For purposes of establishing or modifying parental responsibility and creating, developing, approving, or modifying a parenting plan, including a time-sharing schedule, the best interest of the child shall be the primary consideration.

In Florida, a determination of the best interests of the child is made by evaluating all of the factors affecting the welfare and interests of the particular minor child and the circumstances of that family.

There is also international divorce jurisdiction angle when a divorce is based on religion. Florida, under the UCCJEA provides a general legal framework for recognition and enforcement of foreign custody and visitation decrees originating from foreign jurisdictions.

A foreign country is treated as a “state” for purposes of applying the UCCJEA. The UCCJEA, like the Hague Convention, can also be used to seek the return of a child from Florida to a foreign country.

But there are limits, as Turkey’s high court recently found. For example, when the foreign law itself fails to recognize a fundamental public policy tenet, such as considering the best interests of the child, the courts of Florida may decline to recognize the judgment. However, whether the foreign court has properly applied its law is a question for the foreign jurisdiction.

Triple Talaq

Saudi Arabia adheres to an interpretation of Islamic law though there is no written law. Triple Talaq allows Muslim men to leave their wives instantaneously by saying “talaq,” meaning divorce three times. In Saudi Arabia Men are granted the right to talaq and, until recently, the courts were not required to immediately inform women that their husbands unilaterally divorced them.

Unilateral divorce is exclusive to men while women are entitled to khul or khal, a type of divorce where the husband should agree to pay back the dowry of the wife seeking divorce.

Men also remain the woman’s “guardian” throughout divorce proceedings in the country where most things women seek to do require the company of a male guardian, from travel to marriage.

Turkey’s Daily Sabah article is here.

The Rap on Joint Custody

Many are wondering what the rap is on joint custody after Kanye West requested joint legal and physical custody of his four children with Kim Kardashian. According to news reports, neither party is seeking spousal support.

Rap Custody

Famous

According to a legal response filed by the rapper’s attorney West, 43, requests joint legal and physical custody of their children. It should be no surprise that neither party is seeking spousal support.

The 43-year-old rapper’s sneaker and clothing business — now bolstered by Adidas AG and Gap Inc. — is valued between $3.2 billion and $4.7 billion by UBS Group AG, according to Bloomberg. A report published by the outlet on Wednesday, March 17, revealed that West’s total worth has skyrocketed to $6.6 billion. (Forbes previously declared West a billionaire in April 2020.)

Yeezy’s collaboration with Gap is set to hit stores this summer and “could be worth as much as $970 million” of the brand’s value, per Bloomberg. Last year, the Grammy winner signed a 10-year agreement to design and sell apparel under the Yeezy Gap label. West still holds total ownership and creative power within the company.

Along with the income from his Yeezy line, the “Gold Digger” artist has also accrued $122 million in cash and stock. He’s raked in an additional $110 million from his extensive catalog of music and has another $1.7 billion in other assets.

Forbes estimates that Kardashian West is now worth $1 billion, up from $780 million in October, thanks to two lucrative businesses—KKW Beauty and Skims—as well as cash from reality television and endorsement deals, and a number of smaller investments

Florida Shared Parental Responsibility

The question about an award of custody of children frequently comes up, especially now in Florida as the Legislature is considering a massive change to how timesharing is decided in family court.

Although Kanye is seeking “joint physical and legal custody, the term “custody” is no longer recognized in Florida. Florida replaced the “custody” term for the “parenting plan” concept in order to avoid labeling parents as “visiting parent” or “primary parent” in the hopes of making child custody issues less controversial, and encourage parents to co-parent more effectively.

Under Florida’s parenting plan concept, both parents enjoy shared parental responsibility and a time-sharing schedule. “Shared parental responsibility” means both parents retain full parental rights and responsibilities and have to confer with each other so that major decisions affecting their child are made jointly.

A time-sharing schedule, as the name suggests, is simply a timetable that is included in the parenting plan that specifies the times, including overnights and holidays, that your child spends with each parent.

Florida’s parenting plan concept has changed sole custody into “sole parental responsibility.” The term means that only one parent makes decisions regarding the minor child, as opposed to the shared parental responsibility terms, where both parents make decisions jointly.

Go West

Amid the divorce, Kardashian has continued to live in the $60 million Hidden Hills mansion she shared with West, while the Yeezy designer Kanye has headed west, staying on his ranch in Wyoming.

I’ve written about the Kanye West Kardashian divorce problems before. Last year, after a series of tweets, Kanye claimed Kardashian and her mother, Kris Jenner, were trying to lock him up for medical reasons because of comments made during a rally in South Carolina.

West told the crowd during the Charleston event that he and his wife considered an abortion when she became pregnant with their first child. Kardashian emphasized in a past statement that “living with bipolar disorder does not diminish or invalidate his dreams and his creative ideas, no matter how big they feel to some.”

“I understand Kanye is a public figure and his actions at times can cause strong opinions and emotions. He is a brilliant but complicated person who on top of the pressure of being an artist and Black man, who experienced the painful loss of his mother, and has to deal with the pressure and isolation that is heightened by his bipolar disorder.”

West also asks for the court’s right to award spousal support for either person to be terminated, the filing says. In the document, West’s counsel lists irreconcilable differences as the couple’s reason for divorce, though a date of separation is not given.

West and Kardashian, 40, started dating in 2012 and tied the knot on May 24, 2014. Kardashian filed for divorce in February after nearly seven years of marriage.

The split between West and Kardashian came after a tumultuous period for the pair, who appeared to be on the brink of divorce last summer before reconnecting and spending private time together with their children.

In January, however, multiple sources confirmed that Kardashian had been working with a high-profile divorce attorney and planned to file for divorce. “They are just not on the same page when it comes to their future as a family,” one insider said at the time. “And Kim is okay with it.”

“Kim plans on staying at the Hidden Hills house with the kids. This is their home and Kim doesn’t want to move right now at least,” one insider previously told PEOPLE. “They both agree that the less stress the kids experience, the better. Kanye loves his kids. He wants them to be happy,” the source added. “He doesn’t want to fight with Kim about anything.”

The CNN article is here.