Saturday, March 31, 2012

Appeals Court Says Divorced Parents' Dispute Over Baptism of Children May Be Adjudicated

In Jarrell v. Jarrell, (TN Ct. App., March 28, 2012), a father asked the court to hold his former wife in contempt for violating the Parenting Plan entered by the court in their divorce under which major decisions regarding their children's religious upbringing were to be made jointly.  The mother, Lauren Jarrell, had their two children baptized without the knowledge or consent of their father, Emmett Jarrell. During their marriage, Lauren and Emmett disagreed on whether their children should be baptized at an early age, or only when they are older. The court rejected Lauren's argument that in granting Emmett's petition, the trial court gave preference to the father's religious views over those of the mother. The court said:
Mother is correct that courts “must maintain strict neutrality in cases involving religious disputes between divorced parents[,]” and they may not “prefer the religious views of one parent over another unless one parent’s religious beliefs and practices threaten the health and well-being of the child.”.... However, simply put, this is not a “religious dispute.” In this case, the trial court was asked only to determine whether Mother’s conduct in failing to abide by the terms of the Parenting Plan warranted a finding of contempt; it was not called upon to resolve a religious dispute between the parties.
The appeals court reversed the trial court's civil contempt order, though, finding that the trial court was attempting to punish the mother rather than obtain compliance which is the function of civil contempt. But at the same time it also concluded that the trial court erred in holding that Lauren was not given adequate notice to support a criminal contempt finding. AP reports on the decision.