Don’t Like Our Church? Then You Can’t See Your Kids

Imagine for a moment the following scenario:

You got married several years ago and had two children with your wife. You all attend an evangelical Christian church on weekends.

During your visits to the church, you begin to grow wary of what you hear. What’s with all the anti-gay rhetoric? Is the pastor really espousing a pro-life stance even in cases of rape and incest? And, for that matter, why does the church ignore the more abominable parts of the Bible?

You decide this church and this faith isn’t for you.

Meanwhile, you and the wife are having issues and you get a divorce. You’d still like to maintain contact with your children, of course. One is 10 and the other is 15 — neither are legal adults.

The judge in the case, however, says you may not have any contact with your children.

Why?

Because you continue to criticize the church and that is not in the children’s best interest.

My reaction would be: Are you shitting me?

And yet, that story is not very different from what has happened to an Australian man who left the Exclusive Brethren church:

A family court judge has denied a father any role in the parenting of his Exclusive Brethren children, in part because of his “continuing criticism” of the controversial Christian sect. In the judgment, judge Sally Brown ruled that, while there was a legal presumption that both parents should share parenting, this was “contrary to the children’s best interests” in this case.

The father, who cannot be identified because of restrictions on reporting of Family Court cases, is “devastated”, particularly as a previous court judgment had awarded him frequent access to two of his eight children. Justice Brown’s judgment means he has no right to see or even communicate with the children, in a reversal of those previous court orders.

The father had applied for custody of both children but late in the case changed his position, asking for custody of his daughter and access to his son. The judge condemned this as “indicative of a significant lack of understanding of the children’s needs” .

The cultish Christian sect Exclusive Brethren does not permit members to associate with non-members.

The only way the father will be able to see his children now is by buying their photographs from the church’s school… when the kids aren’t around.

He has no money to appeal the decision — the case has already set him back $100,000.

I’m no lawyer. Some of you who know Australian law may be able to shed some more light on this… but since when do absurd religious beliefs trump parental rights? That sounds like a dangerous precedent to set.

  • Woody Tanaka

    This is just awful. Religion is the root of so much evil in this world. I can only hope that we, as a society, start viewing religion as the mental incapacity it is. Good luck to this fellow and I hope that there are some good people in Australia who can help him fight these evil people.

  • Eric

    Completely OT, but the Fark headline was too good to pass up:

    “Baby Floats Recalled.” Maybe the root beer was too warm and the babies melted

  • http://www.wayofthemind.org/ Pedro Timóteo

    EIGHT children? Is he an ex-quiverfull or something?

  • SarahH2

    Why did he intially get access to only two of the eight children? Seems like there may be other reasoning here (though including religion at ALL is ridiculous).

  • http://chaoskeptic.blogspot.com Iason Ouabache

    And yet I’m sure that this group calls themselves “pro-family”.

  • http://www.scoutingforall.org Brian Westley

    Hemant, this happens to atheist parents in THIS country (this is from 2005):
    http://www.volokh.com/posts/1125342962.shtml

    Here’s an example that I think is particular egregious: The discrimination in favor of religious parents and against irreligious ones, or in favor of more religious parents and against less religious ones, in child custody cases, on the theory that it’s in the child’s “best interests” (that’s the relevant legal test) to be raised with a religious education.

    Mississippi is the most serious offender, though I’ve seen cases since 1990 in Arkansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, and Texas; there are similar cases in 1970s Iowa, Nebraska, North Carolina, and New York. (I give cites below.) In 2001, for instance, the Mississippi Supreme Court upheld an order giving a mother custody partly because she took the child to church more often than the father did, thus providing a better “future religious example.” In 2000, it ordered a father to take the child to church each week, as a Mississippi court ordered in 2000, reasoning that “it is certainly to the best interests of [the child] to receive regular and systematic spiritual training.”

  • Ross Hepburn

    I wouldn’t expect this to happen from a country like Australia. The church must have pumped some funds into getting the wife a great lawyer.

  • http://hoverfrog.wordpress.com hoverFrog

    They wonder why people abscond with their own children. He has been left with no other option if he wants to see his kids.

    Tha law is an ass.

  • http://foreverinhell.blogspot.com Personal Failure

    That’s completely insane. And very scary for believers as well as atheists. Better hope your better half doesn’t develop slightly different theological views, or you could lose your kids.

  • Ron in Houston

    Being one of those evil lawyers, I know that we’re only getting one side of the equation. I highly, highly doubt that criticism of the church would be the only reason for that decision. Sounds like a highly contentious custody battle which usually means plenty of alienating behavior on both sides.

  • Ryan

    This is pretty bad.

    SarahH2, I would assume the other children are adults?

  • http://hoverfrog.wordpress.com hoverFrog

    On the other hand…my unwife has already told me that there is no possible way that I would have access to our kids if I went mad and adopted one of those dangerous religions like Jehovah’s Witness. Anything that could put them at risk or put my judgment at risk would void my right to parental responsibility. Clearly criticizing a sect falls far short of this and the judge needs to not give the religion any special favouritism.

  • Aj

    In Western countries men do not have equal parental rights. There have been many absurd rulings against men especially from women judges. See how little it takes for a man to lose the right to see his children. Basically, one bat shit crazy judge has been able to ruin someone’s life without them being able to fight back. Not to mention the cult probably isn’t the best place for children to be. It’s a fucking disgrace.

    Religion is given special protection from criticism that is afforded to no other type of beliefs, even though they are supported by no evidence, often irrational and incoherent. Even when a cult like this aims to turn children against their own parents because they don’t want them interacting with the market place of ideas, because they don’t want the members hearing contradictory claims against their authority.

    Laws and trials are biased towards wealth, cults like the “Exclusive Brethren” (wow, that’s an evil name) and The Church of Scientology use their ill-gotten gains to hire expensive lawyers that only seem to game the system by delaying, obscuring, and character assassinating, with the end game of financially crippling people. Libel laws are only available to the rich, legal research, barristers, and solicitors are really expensive.

  • http://duoquartuncia.blogspot.com Duae Quartunciae

    For a more detailed report with some additional background, see Ex-Brethren father loses battle for children, reported in the Age — a Melbourne newspaper.

    I can understand some of the reasoning of the judge here. It is grossly unfair, but that is not actually relevant. The judge has to look to what is best for the children, not what is fair. I’m not saying this was indeed the best for the children… the Brethren are an evil, manipulative and destructive cult. But they are not illegal. So what’s a judge to do? The kids are most likely thoroughly opposed to contact with their father, and what’s really needed is to break up the Brethren. But there’s no way to do that. It is an awful situation, and the kind of thing where I almost wish there was a hell for the Brethren to rot in.

  • Sebeka

    The mother fell ill with a recurrence of breast cancer after Justice Benjamin’s ruling in 2007, and the “family narrative” blamed the father for this.

    This is crazy.

  • beckster

    In Western countries men do not have equal parental rights.

    I agree with that. I have witnessed many cases where fathers were struggling mightily to play a part in the lives of their children and everyone tried to get in the way, but then many of the same people complain about absentee dads! Good for him for taking the initiative to be involved in his children’s lives! Too bad it is working out how it is.

  • http://evilburnee.co.uk PaulJ

    “The cultish Christian sect Exclusive Brethren does not permit members to associate with non-members.”

    Religion is all about power.

  • Spurs Fan

    In Western countries men do not have equal parental rights. There have been many absurd rulings against men especially from women judges. See how little it takes for a man to lose the right to see his children. Basically, one bat shit crazy judge has been able to ruin someone’s life without them being able to fight back

    Citations? Examples? If you take out the religious element, I know that many of these cases have been decided precisely because the mother has a better case.

  • Miko

    In Western countries men do not have equal parental rights.

    In Eastern countries women do not have equal paternal rights.

    Citations? Examples? If you take out the religious element, I know that many of these cases have been decided precisely because the mother has a better case.

    I don’t have a citation, but the statistic I’ve heard is that the female parent typically wins 90% of cases in which biological need (e.g., breastfeeding) is not a factor. (And, of course, approximately 100% of cases in which it is a factor.)

    Unless you’re so sexist as to think that women are inherently better parents (and assuming that this statistic is accurate to within at least an order of magnitude), I’d say it’s pretty well established that Western custody law is unfairly biased in favor of women.

  • jemand

    @ miko, I really don’t believe those statistics as I think a great number of custody cases end in joint custody– as it should be.

    And I’ve heard stories of women getting screwed over as well as men, in about equal proportion.

  • Spurs Fan

    I don’t have a citation, but the statistic I’ve heard is that the female parent typically wins 90% of cases in which biological need (e.g., breastfeeding) is not a factor. (And, of course, approximately 100% of cases in which it is a factor.)

    That is why a citation or two (I don’t need a representative sample) would be helpful. I too am not sure about those stats, but if in non-joint custody cases, women still “win” the majority of the time, I’m not sure the statistic alone would justify that there is gender discrimination. Nothing like the de jure gender discrimination in the U.S. that favored men until the 1970′s (see Reed vs. Reed).

    This isn’t scientific by any means, but in my limited experience observing families, the mother tends to be the more responsible parent, (not is, but tends to be)and the father is often the one who caused the divorce (affair, alcoholism, etc.)in the first place.

    Again, not saying there aren’t exceptions, but at this point, I’m not nearly convinced that “men do not have equal parental rights” in Western countries.

  • sil-chan

    For all those asking for statistics, this took me two seconds to find:
    http://www.childrensjustice.org/stats.htm

    The sources for the vast majority of these are government sanctioned studies and census mining.

    Here are some of the more startling statistics:
    * 37.9% of fathers have no access/visitation rights.
    * 40% of mothers reported that they had interfered with the non-custodial father’s visitation on at least one occasion, to punish the ex-spouse.
    * Custodial mothers who receive a support award: 79.6%
    * Custodial fathers who receive a support award: 29.9%
    * Non-custodial mothers who totally default on support: 46.9%
    * Non-custodial fathers who totally default on support: 26.9%
    Children from fatherless homes account for:
    * 63% of youth suicides.
    * 71% of pregnant teenagers.
    * 90% of all homeless and runaway children.
    * 71% of all high school dropouts.
    * 85% of all youths sitting in prisons.

  • Spurs Fan

    Custodial mothers who receive a support award: 79.6%
    * Custodial fathers who receive a support award: 29.9%
    * Non-custodial mothers who totally default on support: 46.9%
    * Non-custodial fathers who totally default on support: 26.9%

    Can’t these be explained overall by the fact that womens’ wages are still well below mens’, even for comparable occupations? Add to this the fact that many women work inside the home, and it makes sense that fathers’ would have to pay more and more often.

    Children from fatherless homes account for:
    * 63% of youth suicides.
    * 71% of pregnant teenagers.
    * 90% of all homeless and runaway children.
    * 71% of all high school dropouts.
    * 85% of all youths sitting in prisons.

    I’m not sure these stats have anything to do with the idea that theory that the “justice system favors men in custody cases”. I think they just mean that these mothers tend to be poor and young. You can hardly blame single moms for these problems when the father many times has left or not taken responsibility for a child.

    * 37.9% of fathers have no access/visitation rights.

    We would have to know why (specific examples) they have no custody to determine if there is a bias. If a judge has not ruled for joint-custody, then it seems logical that some of those fathers might not have any access.

    * 40% of mothers reported that they had interfered with the non-custodial father’s visitation on at least one occasion, to punish the ex-spouse.

    This would be the only damning statistic, but I would still be interested in seeing why: Was the father “punished” because he was abusive.

    As stated earlier, I can understand that there are bad mothers and great fathers (I’d like to think I am one), but it seems like a stretch to say that their is an inherent bias in child custody toward mothers, simply because they are mothers.

  • sil-chan

    That is why a citation or two (I don’t need a representative sample) would be helpful.

    You asked for statistics and I provided. They seem to support the supposition that women are indeed granted custody in the vast majority of cases.

    Can’t these be explained overall by the fact that womens’ wages are still well below mens’, even for comparable occupations? Add to this the fact that many women work inside the home, and it makes sense that fathers’ would have to pay more and more often.

    While this may be account for some of the difference, 50% versus 20% is a major discrepancy that can’t be explained away with a single explanation.

    I’m not sure these stats have anything to do with the idea that theory that the “justice system favors men in custody cases”. I think they just mean that these mothers tend to be poor and young. You can hardly blame single moms for these problems when the father many times has left or not taken responsibility for a child.

    To quote you, can you provide anything other than anecdotal evidence that men “many times” has left or not taken responsibility? Also, I didn’t say all the statistics were relevant; I stated that the statistics I found were “frightening.” Please re-read.

    We would have to know why (specific examples) they have no custody to determine if there is a bias. If a judge has not ruled for joint-custody, then it seems logical that some of those fathers might not have any access.

    You obviously do not understand what it means to ask for statistics. Statistics are cold hard numbers. When you ask for them you do not also get to ask for “specific examples.” However, since you want to play that game, let’s take a look at a few more statistics:

    * 61% of all child abuse is committed by biological mothers
    * 25% of all child abuse is committed by natural fathers
    Statistical Source: Current DHHS report on nationwide Child Abuse

    Hm. The statistics don’t seem to line up like that would if there wasn’t a bias for maternal custody.

    Oh, and I believe these statistics also answer your statement:

    This would be the only damning statistic, but I would still be interested in seeing why: Was the father “punished” because he was abusive.

    There is an inherent bias towards maternal custody in this country. The statistics speak to it. But if you need further evidence, then here:
    http://deltabravo.net/custody/stats.php
    http://childcustody.factexpert.com/1370-custody-gender-bias.php

    And finally, in case you STILL think there isn’t an inherent maternal bias, then chew on this. In Texas, where I live, if custody is disputed, custody DEFAULTS to the mother whereas the father gets VISITATION by default. This means that the father is automatically given the burden of proving there is some serious reason he should be given custody. That, my friend, is what I call bias.

  • Aj

    Australia

    THE Family Court is still awarding mothers custody of children in 60 per cent of cases, despite a 2006 law creating a presumption of shared parental responsibility. [1]

    In 15% of litigated cases where the father received less than 30% of the parenting time with the child, the reason for that decision was given as entrenched conflict between the parents. By contrast, of cases where the mother received less than 30% of parenting time with the child, only 2% were given as due to entrenched conflict.

    While mental health is given as a reason for granting less than 30% of parenting time in only 3% of litigated cases for fathers, it is given as the reason in no less than 31% of cases for mothers. This is a very large discrepancy between the sexes. A similar but opposite discrepancy appears in the statistics for abuse and domestic violence. [2]

    [1] http://bit.ly/Wcn27

    [2] http://bit.ly/Rvge6

    I’m having trouble posting links sometimes on this site.

  • Aj

    United States

    In the present study, judges hearing custody cases in Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee were surveyed by mail.

    When examining the “Agree” column for items 1-4, the results show far more “Agree” responses for mothers than for fathers, which is indicative of a fairly consistent tendency toward maternal preference by the judges. There is also a definite pattern showing stronger signs of maternal preference with older judges, compared to younger judges. Some of these findings are highlighted in the following paragraphs. [1]

    [1] http://bit.ly/8r4bw

  • Spurs Fan

    Sil-chan,

    Easy there. Calm down just a bit. I asked for specific examples (surely there are some in the media, as Hemant provided one, albeit in Australia and based on religion), because most of the statistics you quote don’t tell the entire story. In fact, as I browsed up the posts, I don’t think I ever asked for stats, but rather examples. Reason being, so that I could see some blatant examples of judges who simply went with the mother on custody, exclusively because she was female.

    I think most of the stats your provide are good fodder, but they don’t tell the entire story. For example:

    * 61% of all child abuse is committed by biological mothers
    * 25% of all child abuse is committed by natural fathers
    Statistical Source: Current DHHS report on nationwide Child Abuse

    How much of this discrepancy can be explained by the fact that there are far more single mothers than fathers?

    I live in Texas as well and have never heard of the precedent of the father being given the “burden of proof”. I just want to see one or two examples of court cases where the judge sided with the mother, simply because she was the mother, and not related to any other factor. I just want to see if in fact, after years of discrimination against mothers in our nation, if the pendelum has swung completely to the other side in 35 years

  • sil-chan

    I’ll reply more later as I am pressed for time at this moment but I’ll speak to two of your concerns quickly:

    1) My brother went through a custody battle and lost in Texas and Wisconsin. That is why I know about the burden of proof in Texas. Wisconsin is slightly different with the mother being given automatic primacy in a shared custody, meaning dad gets the days the mom doesn’t want unless the dad can argue his case there as well.

    2) As for the statistics, here is another one
    Married: 54,493,232
    Mom only: 12,900,103
    Dad Only: 4,394,012

    Meaning the discrepancy between 61% and 25% cannot be explained away as there being more single mothers since the vast majority of households (~78%) have both parents still.

  • MikeCBR600f

    How much of this discrepancy can be explained by the fact that there are far more single mothers than fathers?

    Perhaps there are far more single mothers than fathers because the current custody laws in the US are biased towards the mother?

    As a divorced father I can personally attest to the fact that I have absolutely no legal rights when it comes to parenting. There is no system in place to enforce my parenting time, and if one carefully reads the current laws, they seem to imply that the largest contribution I can possibly make to the raising of my children is my paycheck. For example, if I don’t make my child support payments for any reason (like getting laid off last year), they suspend my drivers license, take away my ability to get a passport, and hold me in contempt of court and fine me more money that I don’t have or send me to jail. This process is automatic and requires no request or input from my ex. Compare that to what happens if my ex decides I don’t get to see my son for Christmas (yeah, I still call it that despite not believing in Christ or attending mass). I have to file paperwork with the local courts “alleging” missed parenting time, which they then have to process, and set a court date 90 to 180 days out, during which my ex gets told by the judge to stop it, after which my ex promptly denies my summer parenting time. Which means I get to go through that whole process again, walking to the court house since I still don’t have a driver’s license since I still don’t have a job but child support (in my state, anyway) is based on “earning potential”, not actual earnings.

    For fathers like me, and I know there are many thousands out there, it’s a constant battle against not only the laws that make it impossible for us to have an active role in our children’s lives but against decades old, outdated ideas of what is best for the child. In some states, the laws are changing, but the hearts and minds of the judges that sit on the bench are not. So you can claim that the mother has a better case all you want, but the fact is that in more than a few cases, the mother has better laws and better social and judicial support, regardless of the strength or weakness of her case.

    And the only people that are really getting hurt by this are our kids. Kids need both mothers and fathers. And in cases where one parent happens to be vindictive and petty, there need to be laws that support the non-custodial parent regardless of gender (although obviously from the statistics above, “non-custodial” is synonymous with “father”).

    Anyway, my $0.02 since I couldn’t let this one alone. It’s an issue very close to my heart.

  • sil-chan

    Mike: I’m very sorry for what you are going through. My brother went through something very similar.

    He ended up committing suicide late last year as a result of the custody issues and other related issues. He and I were never that close but it still hurts deeply that I couldn’t have been there for him over this issue. So for me, it is an issue that strikes close to home as well.

    Coincidentally, my brother was named Mike as well…

    Good luck in getting time with your children Mike. I hope everything comes through well for you.

  • Spurs Fan

    Hey Guys,

    The one thing I’ll disagree with outright is

    Kids need both mothers and fathers

    I definitely can understand why a strong parental support system is necessary, but disagree that it would have to be one male and one female.

    Still, these examples make sense and give me something to ponder. I’ve never really thought about this and not once have I heard stories like these.

    I’m probably biased in that most of the relationships I have seen usually have crappy fathers and at least decent mothers. Also, I still think there is a large legacy of racism and sexism in this nation left over from most of our history, so needless to say, I’m very skeptical when I hear white folks complaining about “reverse racism” or men complaining about “reverse sexism”. Because of these biases, I require a large burden of evidence to counteract those claims.

    So, while I still am examining this issue with a (now) more open mind, I want to extend my sympathies to both of you — I’m a father and a brother, and I can’t begin to understand how difficult those situations be.

  • MikeCBR600f

    sil-chan,

    Sorry to hear about your brother. And I’m more worried about my kids than myself. I’m an adult and can’t usually handle not being able to spend time with my kids, so I cannot even begin to understand the effect is has on a 12-year-old psyche.

    I definitely can understand why a strong parental support system is necessary, but disagree that it would have to be one male and one female.

    Thank you, Spurs Fan, for pointing out my own cultural bias. And I would agree with you wholeheartedly. Gender should in no way determine how good a parent one is, nor should sexual preference for that matter. 2 dads, 2 moms, 1 mom and 1 dad, doesn’t really matter. I think the concept of the traditional “nuclear” family is a goner by now, but let’s just leave it at the fact that any parent, regardless of gender, will likely love their kids very much and deserve to have protected, supportable, clearly defined parental rights.

    Cheers,
    ~Mike

  • Brad

    From my understanding the Australian Family Law Court is not particularly pro-religion at all… I suspect there is an entirely different element happening here.

    Without all the details, it sounds like you have a situation where the children have a given belief which they choose to hold and the Father doesn’t respect their right to hold those beliefs and constantly criticises them causing distress to the children. The ages of the children also mean that under Australian law they would have a significant say in the outcome. The decision is based on what the judge believes is in the best interest of the children, it is not based on religion.

  • Aj

    …which they choose to hold…

    Have been indoctrinated and coerced their entire lives in a cult from what I understand tries to limit access to the outside world as much as possible.

    …doesn’t respect right to hold those beliefs…

    By doing what? Nothing of the kind is mentioned in the article.

    …constantly criticises them causing distress to the children…

    Not mentioned at all in the article.

  • Busta Brown

    Yes Aj as somebody who also actually grew up in this particular cult until leaving in my early teens,your suggestion of the indoctrination aspect is much more appropriate than maybe even you would actually be believing.

    Ron in Houstons comments seem a little optimistic to me,put forward as optimistic thinking of the hopeful state of the law system maybe.But still we are talking about a extreme exclusive cult that (alienates itself) in many ways even from folks of the general public here.Im asking myself how does somebody really go about trying to alienate these people.

    A lot of it comes down to who has the most money for drawing court cases out the longest,and if folks look right back over the case they will see its been drawn out with the use of the best of lawyers also.
    The length of the case the stress and then the mother getting sick with backing of the cult indoctrination,was bound to end up in the end with the children finally feeling the father was to blame for all.

    While i will agree that yes often child access cases do get a bit picky from both sides and parents are not often perfect.Folks maybe thinking there is actually nothing else going on here need to maybe start double checking matters to make certain.


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