Friday, April 12, 2013

In 2-1 Decision, State Appeals Court Says Judge's Reference To Biblical Passage Was Not A Problem

In In re Marriage of Sarah Peterson v. Adam Peterson,(MN Ct. App., March 25, 2013), the Minnesota Court of Appeals, in a 2-1 decision, upheld a trial court's award of sole physical custody of 3 minor children to the wife in a divorce action. One issue in the case was whether the trial judge improperly interjected her personal beliefs about a Biblical passage regarding a husband's authority to make decisions in the home.  The majority concluded that the judge's "brief, personal comments" were not an abuse of discretion, particularly since husband's lawyer did not object to them.

Judge Ross, dissenting in part, however took a very different view of the trial judge's comments that in her own marriage she dismissed the Biblical injunction that wives should obey their husbands. The dissent said in part:
I think a district court acts beyond its broad discretion in deciding child custody if the judge personally suggests her approval or disapproval of a religious doctrine that only one of the parties holds.... [K]nowing that the doctrine had taken a lead role in the custody trial, the judge revealed her bias by volunteering that in her own marriage she had “dismissed” the doctrine.
Judge Ross also expressed another concern:
Despite overwhelming evidence and findings recognizing that the children have always attended and continue to be actively involved in the marital church where they grew up, the district court never assesses how the children’s need for stability is impacted by the disruption in their church-related activities if Sarah has sole physical custody.
The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports on the decision.