Religious Custodial Disputes February 13, 2008

Religious Custodial Disputes

The New York Times reports that “child-custody disputes in which religion is the flash point are increasing” over the past 30 years.

In Oregon, a dispute between James Boldt and his former wife, Lia, was recently decided by the State Supreme Court. Mr. Boldt, the custodial parent, converted to Judaism after the divorce and sought to have their son, now 12, convert, and be circumcised.

Tensions can emerge when one parent takes a turn toward fundamentalism. In 2006, the United States Supreme Court let stand a decision by the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania that permitted Stanley Shepp to tell his 14-year-old daughter about polygamy.

And there’s a heartbreaking story about a parent having to fight Amish upbringing:

Aaron Petty of Minneapolis and Gineen Gove of Black River Falls, Wis., had their daughter, Basyl, 17 years ago. The couple split up when Basyl was 4. Soon afterward, Ms. Gove married, and she and her husband converted to Old Order Amish.

As Mr. Petty saw his daughter over the years, he became concerned, he said, when Basyl was about 11 and he learned that the Goves would not let her go to school past eighth grade, a common decision among the Amish.

Mr. Petty petitioned for primary custody so that Basyl might continue her education. “This case wasn’t about religion for me,” he said. “It was about her education.”

He won the case when Basyl was 14, but she disappeared. Mr. Petty said he suspected Basyl was living within the Amish community. The Goves declined to talk about the case.

“I wanted to offer my daughter options for her future, in case she grew up and didn’t remain Amish,” Mr. Petty said in a phone interview. “At 12, 13, 14, making lasting drastic decisions based on faith isn’t an appropriate time.”

Mr. Petty’s voice caught as he continued. “Was that case worth fighting? In hindsight, no. I haven’t seen my daughter in two-and-a-half years.”

It’s hard to find a solution to these problems. The kids are usually (and unfortunately) too young to make a responsible decision about their own upbringing.

Jason at The Wild Hunt says this:

Eventually, one of two roads will have to be taken. Completely leave out matters of faith from custody battles, or directly involve faith communities and experts on religion in the custody process. Neither path will please everyone, but our current system seems far too whimsical and uninformed to make wise decisions involving children and religions outside the mainstream.

The NYT article didn’t mention anything about atheist parent/religious parent custody cases, but I would assume that battle will also be playing out more in the future.

(Thanks to Susan and Brett for the link!)

[tags]atheist, atheism[/tags]

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  • “Was that case worth fighting? In hindsight, no. I haven’t seen my daughter in two-and-a-half years.”

    Hey, I feel bad for the guy, but that is complete bullshit. Of course the case was worth pursuing, he was only doing what was best for his daughter. Any concerned parent would have done the same. It’s not his fault that his wife kidnapped his daughter and disappeared into Amish country. She is a criminal and deserves to be prosecuted and lose her custodial rights to their daughter. Just because she couldn’t handle the legal consequences of her actions and decided to break the law doesn’t mean that it wasn’t worth it.

  • The way the Amish keep their children from getting a good education should be illegal. I am so fracking sick of religious people getting to break the law and ruin their children’s lives because of their stupid beliefs.

  • Jen

    Naturally judges don’t want to rule on these cases. If you, the judge, point out that cutting off part of a twelve year old’s penis just might be a little disturbing for said kid, you have to admit that, gee, maybe its a little strange that we do this to babies who also don’t have a choice.*

    I don’t entirely get why the Amish can refuse to educate beyond the 8th grade. Correct me if I am wrong, but isn’t it illegal to drop out of school before 16? But if you give people an inch, say, telling them they don’t have to pay social securoty like every other damn person, of course they are going to assume they can live above the law.

    The 11 year old sounds a little brainwashed, too. Her mother wants her father not to be able to swear or listen to “non acceptable” music and other media in front of Lil’ Brainwashed, but I don’t see how they can require a grown man to turn off the tv when watching tv isn’t illegal.

    The judges can’t tell these parents that their really crazy religions can’t be taught unless they admit that all religions are probably a bad idea.

    *If I were a circumcised male, I would be PISSED, and probably spend most of my life afraid my parents would chop off other bits and pieces of me.

  • Karen

    This kind of story is why I don’t have any affection for the Amish. A lot of people have a romantic notion about how loving and forgiving and simple they are and isn’t that sweet, la-di-dah, but they don’t see the dark side: Clannishness, depriving kids of education, putting them to work early in inherently dangerous settings and shunning family members who leave the community.

    None of that is “sweet” in my book, nor is hiding someone from the law and from her father. I wonder whether the authorities have gone looking for her or considered prosecuting the people who are hiding her? My suspicion is that the laws in heavily Amish states need to be updated. For instance, education should be compulsory through high school, not though junior high.

  • The whole “my religion is better than your religion” plays out all the time. If you ever take a peek at any Pagan news site you will see it. Most of the custody issues will be just as you listed…between differing religions…Amish/Christian/Muslim/Pagan/etc. and mainly because people may convert after the fact and many Athiests are probably still closet Athiests or are willing to tolerate religious upbringing for the sake of not creating waves.

    My guess why you don’t see a lot of it though is not as dominant as many religious won’t marry an Athiest…something about not only the non-believer being dammed but damming them in the process…there is a bible passage about it but I can’t remember. I abandoned that book long ago.

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