By Jim Warren
You probably read about or saw TV news coverage of a now infamous case currently before the family courts right here in Mecklenburg County. The headlines, generated as clickbait to gain readers and spark outrage, were usually along the lines of “Mother Jailed for Baptizing Child.”
As a lawyer practicing almost every aspect of family law for more than 30 years in Charlotte and surrounding areas, I can tell you that we still live in America and you don’t find yourself in jail for baptizing your child in any faith tradition. We have First Amendment rights guaranteed in the Constitution for free exercise of our religious faith. What we don’t have the right to do, however, is defy court orders made by judges in criminal or civil cases.
The civil case being discussed in the media involves a custody battle between an unmarried couple, both practicing Catholics. Here are some of the facts of the case, according to news reports.
Together for only six months, the two had a child together. The judge (remember, there are no juries in family courts), gave full custody to the father. While we aren’t privy to this particular court order, we know that when judges make a custody award, they typically provide that parents will consult about decisions affecting the health, education, and welfare of the child and keep each other informed about events and appointments affecting or concerning the child.
So, if both of these folks are practicing Catholics, and the woman baptized her daughter in the Catholic church, what’s the problem? It all goes back to the original court order awarding custody to the father. The mother baptized her daughter, without telling the child’s father, the day after the judge made his custody ruling, according to reports. The father found about days later, seeing photos of the baptism on Facebook.
According to parties present at the subsequent hearing, Judge Smith found that the mother “had demonstrated very erratic, bizarre conduct, including poor decision-making and an inability to cooperate.”
Our court systems work the way they do for a reason. People must respect the decision of a family court judge and follow orders to the letter. In this case, the mother evidently deprived the father of attending a landmark event in their child’s life, leaving him to hear about it on Facebook days later. In doing so—without communicating her intent—she defied the court order and accompanying warning from Judge Smith, and she’s had to pay the penalty for that lack of consideration for her child’s father and the court.
With our clients, we routinely counsel them to be transparent and always communicating their intentions to their ex-spouses, especially on decisions regarding schooling, healthcare, and other important areas like religious faith. If you need representation in a child custody matter, contact us at Warren Family Law today.