Court finds ex-wife in violation of child custody agreement

Massachusetts parents make a number of vital decisions in their children’s lives that can affect their future development. This collaborative effort between spouses can encompass choices on a child’s school, extracurricular activities and religious upbringing. But just because a couple later divorces does not mean that the original collaborative decision-making process is lost. Through child custody arrangements, divorcing parents can specify what roles they will have in choices affecting their children’s lives.

One couple’s case is instructive. The couple divorced in a state that provides for a parenting plan, a custody-like arrangement governing parents’ decision-making capacities in their children’s lives. These parents had a dispute over religious beliefs. Although both parents are Christian, they are of different denominations and disagree over the appropriate age for baptism. Their parenting plan required the consent of both parents before either parent made any religious decision regarding the children. If mutual consent could not be achieved, the ex-spouses were obligated to use a mediator.

The mother, however, had the children baptized without first consulting with her ex-husband. The father brought suit, seeking contempt charges against his ex-wife for violating the plan. The court initially found the mother in contempt of court. She appealed the decision, and not only lost on appeal, but also received a stiffer penalty. The appellate court believed that more severe criminal contempt charges were applicable.

The mother’s attorneys have argued that the courts erred, viewing their decisions as judicial intrusion into a private religious matter between parents. By contrast, others see the courts’ rulings simply as a recognition that one parent contravened an agreement entered into with another parent.

Custody agreements are an important part of divorces involving children. Depending on the situation, they can recognize that divorced parents have co-responsibility for their children’s growth and development.

Source: New York Daily News, “Tennessee mom faces jail for baptizing her two children without husband’s consent,” Apr. 1, 2012.

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