Are religious practices included in a parenting plan?
A time-honored principle of our Constitution is that Americans are largely free to practice their religion as they see fit. As such, family law courts are quite reticent to place any restrictions on parenting plans that might interfere with a parent’s religious beliefs, no matter how unconventional those beliefs may be. Such was the case in the influential Florida case of Rogers v. Rogers, 490 So. 2d 1017, 1018 (Fla. 1st DCA, 1986). The Rogers case reversed a custody case where the mother was required to sever ties with her religious organization and was prohibited from talking to her children about the religious organization’s dogmas and practices.
Three decades later, the Florida case of Koch v. Koch weighs in on yet another issue concerning religious beliefs and their impact on parenting plans.
Koch v. Koch
Unless a parent’s religious beliefs and practices can be clearly shown to harm a child when they are practiced in Florida homes, Florida courts have consistently demonstrated an unwillingness to infringe on those beliefs and practices, as evidenced in the case of Pierson v. Pierson, 143 So. 3d 1201, 1203 (Fla. 1st DCA 2014). In the case of Koch v. Koch, however, the appellate court agreed with the reasoning of the Supreme Court of Kansas, which stated that religiously motivated behavior with an impact on a child’s welfare cannot be ignored.
In the Koch case, the appellate court found a “clear, affirmative showing” (using the reasoning and precedent from the Pierson ruling) that a father’s actions — which the father states are religiously motivated — have been harmful to the children. The father frequently admonished the children, threatened them with damnation and demonized the mother of the children. Three mental health professionals testified that these behaviors constituted abuse and were harmful to the children. The record shows that the Father also admitted using the Bible as a “rod” to justify harsh punishments of the children to control their behavior.
Additionally, the father refused to curb any of these aggressive parenting behaviors at the suggestion of mental health professionals. Therapy was also unsuccessful in altering the father’s conduct or behavior. As a result, the father was prohibited from discussing religious matters with the children during visitation, and the appellate court upheld the trial court’s decision.
The takeaway of this case, then, is that harmful or abusive behavior towards children in the name of religious practices is not tolerated in Florida courts. The best interests of the children will always take precedence over religious freedoms, so long as there is a clear, affirmative showing that the parent’s behaviors are harming the children.
If you have questions regarding your parenting plans, or are unaware as to the terms and conditions in, talk to, and retain, a family law attorney who can help. Contact Damien McKinney of The McKinney Law Group to discuss your case further. He can be reached by phone at 813-428-3400 or by e-mail at [email protected]