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Generally, there is no such thing as a "national child custody law". Although similar, each state has established its own laws regarding child custody, and each state's courts interpret those laws using legal standards that may vary from those used by courts in other states. As site visitors will quickly see from reading the following summaries, state courts apply one of the following three different legal standards when deciding these cases:

1. Actual Or Substantial Harm: Existing actual or substantial harm to the child must be proven to have been caused by a parent's religious practices before the court will restrict that parent's constitutional rights. Such states include California, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont and Washington.

2. Risk Of Harm. For a court to restrict a parent's constitutional rights, it only has to be proven that that a parent's religious practices pose a risk of harm to the child. Such states include Minnesota, Montana, North Carolina and Pennsylvania.

3. No Harm Required. In only a few states, such as Arkansas and Wisconsin, a parent who has sole legal custody also has the exclusive right to determine the child's religious education.

Child custody court case decisions typically are lengthy and complex, and deal with a multitude of legal issues. The following case summaries will generally include only those issues in which religion was a factor. Some summaries may omit issues relevant to the court's decision, but not relevant to the theme of this website.

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For those readers who are not looking for any specific DIVORCE case, but who are simply browsing our website for general education regarding Jehovah's Witness Marriages and Divorces, we have posted THREE JW WIFE AUTOBIOGRAPHIES which were submitted by real-world victimized husbands, which relate REAL WATCHTOWER WORLD behind-the-scenes accounts of three Jehovah's Witness marriages about which the WatchTower Society hopes that no insiders nor outsiders ever learn. These three autobiographies are so controversial that most JW readers will deny their authenticity. All three autobiographies are authentic. We have confirmed that.

BOTH the first and the second submitted autobiographies pertain to single Jehovah's Witnesses looking for marriage mates at District Conventions, Circuit events, and via the internet. Things are not always as they appear in "JW World". JWs are marrying other JWs who live hundreds and even thousands of miles away, and often one or both parties eventually learn that they have married a stranger, or worse. Naive Jehovah's Witnesses are marrying JWs from other JW families who have serious ongoing problems which were hidden from them during the courtship. Bankrupt JW in-laws. Criminal JW in-laws. Incestuous JW in-laws. JWs with serious mental health and physical health problems are not fully disclosing their personal "baggage" to prospective marriage mates. In the following two autobiographies, both JW Husbands believe that they were deceived during the courtship period by their future JW Wife, by her JW Parents, by her Congregation Elders, and by other Members of JW Wife's congregation. CLICK ON LINK TO READ:






The third submitted autobiography relates the account of a recently married non-JW Wife who converted to the Jehovah's Witnesses and soon thereafter disowned her loving and trusting Husband. JW Wife then began using her busy JW witnessing and meeting schedule and her morally-corrupt JW friends to hide serial "cheating", and eventually something so SHOCKING that you will have to read the autobiography to believe it. Readers are put on notice that this account contains some sexually explicit material which we have attempted to edit as best as we could and still retain the info and image that the victimized husband wants readers to take away from his unbelievable REAL JW WORLD marriage. CLICK ON LINK TO READ:



Visitors may also be interested in reading the "Real WatchTower World" account posted in our JW EMPLOYEES website about a JW Elderette who put on a "burlesque show" at her home during a business appointment with a lone out-of-town businessman. Foolish JW Elderette never even considered that the out-of-town businessman might possibly have JW connections.


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PATRICIA E. REFFNER v. MARK G. REFFNER was a 1999-2000 Ohio divorce case involving Mark Reffner (born 1953) and Pattie Reffner, of Conneaut, Ohio. This Jehovah's Witness couple interestingly married in May 1975 (just prior to Armageddon occurring in October 1975) and their divorce was final in January 2000. Further details awaiting confirmation.


SUSAN PARFOMCHUK v. STEPHEN W. PARFOMCHUK was a 1995-97 Washington state divorce/custody case. The 10-year marriage of Stephen Parfomchuk and Susan Parfomchuk (now Williamson) was dissolved in 1995. The trial court gave Susan Williamson major decision-making authority regarding their 6-year-old daughter Stephanie Parfomchuk. The trial court also replaced the couple's voluntary pretrial joint custody arrangement with a more traditional approach, awarding primary custody to Williamson. On Stephen Parfomchuk's appeal, the Court of Appeals rejected Stephen Parfomchuk's contentions that the trial court violated his constitutional rights to free exercise of religion, and upheld the trial court's parenting plan, stating in part:

Parfomchuk argues that the trial court's order placing sole decision-making authority for Stephanie's religious upbringing in Williamson violates his constitutional right to free exercise of religion. The court based its decision on a finding that Williamson reasonably opposed mutual decision-making because the couple demonstrated an inability and lack of cooperation in decision-making regarding Stephanie's education, health care and religious upbringing, and had been unable through dispute resolution to resolve issues concerning Stephanie.

Parfomchuk's argument is based on In re Marriage of Jensen-Branch. There the court placed sole decision-making authority in the mother. It permitted the father to take the children to his church when they were with him, but expressly prohibited him from providing "any religious education or indoctrination." This court found the prohibition restricted the father's free exercise rights. We held the trial court "could restrict [father] from teaching his children his faith only upon a substantial showing of potential or actual harm to the children[.]" Had the court not placed the teaching restriction on the father, however, its decision to place sole decision-making authority in the mother would have been reviewed under the abuse of discretion standard even if the court considered the parents' religious affiliations in making its decision.

The critical feature of Jensen-Branch -- an express prohibition placed on the father from teaching his faith to his children -- is absent in Parfomchuk's case. This distinction militates against finding a free exercise restriction and thereby applying the Jensen-Branch "substantial showing" test here. But also absent here is a finding permitting Parfomchuk to take Stephanie to his church when she is with him. If the trial court intended not only to place sole decision-making in the mother, but also to prevent Parfomchuk from taking Stephanie to his church, Parfomchuk's free exercise claim would be strong. Considering all of the circumstances, however, we conclude the court did not intend to prohibit Parfomchuk from taking Stephanie to his church when she is with him.

In its written provisions, the court authorized each parent to "make decisions regarding the day-to-day care and control of each child while the child is residing with that parent." In its oral ruling, the court explained, "If the child is with [Parfomchuk] for his time, he can take the child to his church or place of assembly. I have no trouble with that at all. When the child is with [Williamson], she makes the decision as to how to worship." Although the court should have included this oral permission in its written findings, we may resort to the oral ruling so long as it is not inconsistent with its written decision. The court's oral ruling is consistent with that portion of the parenting plan which places day-to-day control with the residing parent. Therefore, we may consider the court's oral ruling and conclude the court clearly intended to reserve to Parfomchuk the right to take Stephanie to his church when she is with him.

Because of this permission, and the absence of any other restrictions on his free exercise rights, we reject Parfomchuk's constitutional claim. As Jensen-Branch does not apply, the court's decision to place decision-making authority in Williamson need not be supported by the "constitutional" showing of potential or actual harm to the children.

Parenting plan: Decision-making authority

Because the court did not unfairly restrict Parfomchuk's right to freely exercise his religion, we review the court's placement of decision-making authority under the abuse of discretion standard. An abuse of discretion occurs only when a trial court's decision is manifestly unreasonable or based on untenable grounds or reasons. The court's finding that the parents have demonstrated an inability to cooperate is based on substantial evidence.

As a Jehovah's Witness, Parfomchuk explained, he does not recognize holidays like Christmas or birthdays. Williamson testified this aspect of Parfomchuk's religion caused problems involving Stephanie. For example, Parfomchuk forbade the family to celebrate Stephanie's fifth birthday and Christmas in 1995. In fact, Parfomchuk took Stephanie to Disneyland during Christmas week over Williamson's objection. As a result, Williamson had no contact with her daughter on Christmas in 1995. Parfomchuk admitted that Williamson, a non-practicing Baptist, did not like his religious observances and acknowledged a religious conflict existed between the parties.

In addition to religious differences, the couple demonstrated an inability to cooperate in educational matters. Williamson testified Parfomchuk failed to disclose important papers Stephanie's teachers had sent home with the child pertaining to her placement in first grade. Parfomchuk also failed to tell Williamson about placement meetings that were scheduled during a week when Stephanie was with him.

Williamson also testified to problems with the couple's exchange of Stephanie for visitation. She said that on four occasions, Parfomchuk called her on Friday night saying he was too busy to take the child for the weekend. In addition, Parfomchuk testified Williamson did not tell him Stephanie had been ill with a high fever and sent to school anyway. When Parfomchuk sent Stephanie to day care the following Monday, she again became ill and had to stay home from school the entire week. He also testified the parties disagreed as to whether Stephanie was grinding her teeth and how to deal with the problem. Finally, just before trial, Parfomchuk took Stephanie to see a counselor without Williamson's knowledge.

These examples support the trial court's finding the parties are unable to cooperate regarding issues affecting their daughter's welfare. Therefore, the court did not abuse its discretion by relying on this demonstrated inability to cooperate as a reason to reject mutual decision-making and to place sole decision-making authority in Williamson.

School-year residential placement

Parfomchuk contests the trial court's order placing Stephanie primarily with Williamson during the school year and granting visitation to Parfomchuk on alternating long weekends. He argues the court erred by changing the joint residential approach, based on alternating weeks of visitation, that the parties had voluntarily employed for about 10 months before the dissolution became final.

A trial court's ruling as to the placement of children is reviewed for an abuse of discretion. Placement must be in the best interests of the child and is to be made only after the court has considered specific factors set forth in the Parenting Act. The Act revised the factors previously considered, but it continues to give the court broad discretion when making its placement decision. 17 Because the trial court is able to observe the parties, reviewing courts are "extremely reluctant to disturb child placement Dispositions." 

Although the court's written findings of fact do not so specify, we find its oral rulings sufficient to indicate the court considered those factors relevant to this case. First, the court specifically referenced the most important factor by noting Parfomchuk's "strong bond and attachment to" Stephanie, which it explained it did not want to "immediately fracture or divide, separate as strongly as maintained by the mother." As a result, the court divided custody evenly during Stephanie's summer and winter vacations, and on other holidays.

Second, the court not only referred to Parfomchuk's 4-day work schedule, but accommodated Parfomchuk by awarding school-year visitation from Thursday night to Sunday night. Third, because the court placed school-year custody in Williamson, we can reasonably infer it considered and was influenced by Williamson's testimony that she carried out the bulk of the day-to-day caretaking functions like feeding and bathing her daughter, which implicates two of the statutory factors. Fourth, by changing the previously agreed-upon joint custody arrangement, the court obviously considered Williamson's disagreement with continuing the plan, which she based on her belief Parfomchuk had not satisfactorily cooperated during the voluntary period. Finally, the court noted the parties were unsuccessful at pretrial mediation and never agreed to a written, temporary parenting plan.

Accordingly, we find the trial court appropriately considered the requisite statutory factors in awarding primary school-year custody to Williamson. More generally, the court's decision is supported by Parfomchuk's own expert witness, James Leamon, who testified that cooperation between the parents is the key to a successful residential arrangement. Given the demonstrated lack of cooperation between the parents here, the trial court did not abuse its discretion by discontinuing the voluntary joint custody approach employed by the parties.


BAILEY v. BAILEY and ADRIENNE O'NEILL v. RADIO RENTALS was a 1999 divorce case and a related 1999-2000 Scotland employment administrative case. O'Neill was the store manager at the Arbroath, Scotland RADIO RENTALS store location, when she was fired for showing a security camera recording to the cuckolded husband of one of her female Jehovah's Witness employees.

In May 1999, Nathan Bailey, age 29, came to his JW Wife's place of employment looking for her when she did not come home from work on time one day. After some discussion, O'Neill decided to show Nathan Bailey a security recording of his 22 year-old wife, Lee Anne Bailey. That video recording showed Lee Anne Bailey and the recently divorced 38 year-old owner of a nearby butcher shop disappearing for a lengthy period of time back into the rear storage room of the RADIO RENTALS store.

RADIO RENTALS management merely transferred Lee Anne Bailey to another location, but fired store manager Adrienne O'Neill. After four months, O'Neill won reinstatement to her former position. Lee Anne Bailey reportedly moved in with the much older Butcher, and she and her JW Husband were soon divorced. Nathan Bailey and Lee Anne Bailey had been married at the Peebles Kingdom Hall of Jehovah's Witnesses in 1994. 


WILBUR O. v. CHRISTINA P. was a 1995 New York state appellate court decision. This BIZARRE case is mandatory reading for anyone interested in JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES, JEHOVAH'S WITNESS CHILDREN, and JEHOVAH'S WITNESS FAMILIES -- regardless the context.
WilburO and Christina divorced in May 1989. They had two children: WilliamO was born in 1981, and JessicaO was born in 1983. The parties stipulated that Christina would have custody of the children, and WilburO would have liberal visitation. Thereafter, WilburO exercised frequent and consistent visitation, notwithstanding his later move to Connecticut where he became employed as a recruiter for the U.S. Naval Reserve.
Christina was an active Jehovah's Witness, and by April 1990, Christina had married another active Jehovah's Witness, named Allan P. Naturally, WilliamO and JessicaO also were being reared as Jehovah's Witnesses. Shortly following this marriage, there was a contested custody hearing in which custody of the two children was awarded to Christina, with WilburO receiving visitations during alternate weekends and holidays. Also following the marriage, the JW Parents started routinely throwing away various items the two children brought back from visits with WilburO -- believing that such items were possessed by demons and the cause of the two children's "misbehavior".
By 1991, Christina began experiencing "flashback memories" of childhood physical, sexual and emotional abuse. In January 1992, Christina admitted herself to a hospital for treatment. She was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and psychotherapy was recommended. After her discharge, Christina began to have extensive flashbacks of alleged satanic ritualistic abuse perpetrated upon her by her father.
Shortly, such "flashbacks" included a recounting of such abuse by Christina's ex-husband, WilburO. Shortly, Christina's satanic ritual flashbacks included WilburO abusing the two children. Although some of these alleged repressed memory episodes occurred in the presence of the children, the children never indicated that they had been victims of any abuse from WilburO, or anyone else. Thus, the children continued to visit regularly with WilburO.
However, in September 1992, Christina and AllanP unilaterally terminated WilburO's visitation with the children notwithstanding the children's protest. Christina and AllanP changed their telephone number, and would not give it to the children for fear that they would tell WilburO. Thereafter, WilliamO and JessicaO became very depressed and WilliamO even spoke of committing suicide. In October 1992, AllanP and Christina took the children to a mental health clinic. The clinic notes reveal that the family had "a strong sense of suicidal ideation" and that WilliamO was extremely depressed.

By November 1992, WilliamO told his therapist that Christina had performed a "muscle testing technique" on him which resulted in the release of "memories" of acts of ritualistic satanic abuse perpetrated upon him by his father. From this time forward, WilliamO, and eventually, JessicaO, began to detail more elaborate memories of satanic ritualistic abuse perpetrated upon them by WilburO. Both AllanP and Christina spoke extensively with the children regarding these memories and assisted the children in keeping journals recounting them. The journals purport to recount, through the children's alleged multiple personalities, bizarre and disturbing "recollections" of satanic cult rituals, demonic possessions, murder, cannibalism, the burial of dead bodies, torture, and physical and sexual abuse.

AllanP and Christina thereafter fled with the children to Canada. In December 1992, AllanP attempted suicide. From December 1992 through May 1993, the children were taken to a JEHOVAH'S WITNESS COUNSELOR, named Michael St. Jean, who allegedly encouraged the children to maintain their journals.

AllanP, Christina, and the two children apparently returned to New York. In June 1993, WilburO filed for custody of the children after learning that his two children were experiencing "flashbacks" of satanic ritualistic abuse allegedly committed by him. The Delaware County Department of Social Services commenced an investigation of Christina and AllanP. As a result thereof, the two children recounted various disturbing memories to DSS caseworkers, which were uncorroborated by physical or medical evidence. WilburO was also investigated based on the children's allegations, but the allegations were determined to be unfounded.

In July 1993, the children were placed in foster care on an emergency removal. Following their removal, the children ceased to have flashbacks, and even expressed confusion as to why they ever made such allegations. They thereafter stated that the allegations were as a result of suggestions made by both Christina and AllanP, and asserted unequivocally, that WilburO never abused them in any way, and that they were never subjected to the satanic ritual abuse previously reported.

In July 1993, WilburO was permitted to resume visitation with the children. On July 9, 1993, DSS filed a neglect petition against Christina and Allan. Family Court adjudicated WilliamO and JessicaO to be neglected, and placed them with WilburO. Family Court also issued orders of protection prohibiting Christina and AllanP from contacting the children except in the context of supervised visitation. WilburO was awarded custody of his two children.

When the two JW Fruitloops appealed, they lost. The New York appellate court ruled that the children's impaired mental health was due to the actions of their two JW Parents. Custody had been properly switched to WilburO in accordance with the recommendations of the Law Guardian and each of the mental health professionals, as well as the preference expressed by both children.

WATKINS v. NELSON was a 1996-2000 New Jersey Supreme Court custody case which pitted an African-American family of Jehovah's Witnesses, the Watkins, against a Hispanic Catholic family, the Nelsons. In August 1996, 17 year-old Megan Murphy gave birth to Chantel Ivonne Watkins-Murphy. Lawrence Watkins (age 19) executed a Certificate of Parentage at the hospital. Larry Watkins and Megan Murphy were NOT married, and each lived with their own parents/step-parents.
Twelve days after Chantel's birth, Megan Murphy was killed in an automobile accident. At Megan's funeral, various members of the Watkins family informed the Nelson family that they wanted custody Of Chantel. The Nelsons refused to give them the baby. The Nelsons were concerned about giving Chantel to Larry because they believed that Larry had a history of instability and was very immature. The Nelsons also had doubts about whether Larry was the biological father based on Chantel's skin tone. Mrs. Nelson also was concerned with Larry's past history of depression. Mrs. Nelson claimed that during a conversation she had with Larry, Larry had mentioned that he felt suicidal on three occasions.
The Watkins began their legal battle for Chantel within 2-3 days after Megan's funeral. The amount of legalities was unbelievable. Throughout the ensuing three-and-one-half years of legal proceedings at the trial and appellate levels, Chantel remained under the custody of the Nelsons. Chantel spent most weekends with Larry and his family, initially by voluntary agreement of the parties, despite some ill feelings, but later pursuant to court order. In April 2000, the New Jersey Supreme Court reversed the lower court rulings, and awarded Chantel to Lawrence Watkins, stating in part:
This is an action for custody of a three and one-half year old child who has been residing with the maternal grandparents since the sudden death of the mother twelve days after giving birth to the child. This appeal requires us to determine the appropriate standard for deciding a custody dispute between a biological parent and a third party following the death of the custodial parent. Specifically, we must determine whether it was appropriate for the lower courts to consider the best interests of the child as the appropriate standard in awarding custody of a fit biological father's child to the deceased mother's parents. Approximately nineteen months after the mother's tragic death, the Chancery Division, Family Part, determined that it was in the child's best interest to award custody to the maternal grandparents. In a published opinion, a divided appellate panel affirmed. ... This appeal is before the Court as of right by reason of the dissent. We now reverse.
We hold that the courts below applied the improper standard to this custody dispute. Upon the death of the custodial parent, in an action for guardianship of a child pursuant to ... a presumption exists in favor of the surviving biological parent. That presumption can be rebutted by proof of gross misconduct, abandonment, unfitness, or the existence of exceptional circumstances, but never by a simple application of the best interests test. Because that presumption in favor of the biological father has not been rebutted, and because of the need for finality to these proceedings, we direct the immediate transfer of custody to the biological father, plaintiff Lawrence Watkins. Consistent with the biological father's concession to this Court that the Nelsons should have visitation with the child, we direct the trial court to establish a visitation schedule for Beverly and Kevin Nelson, the maternal grandparents.
REICHART v. REICHART was a 1988 Illinois divorce and child custody case which was not resolved until 2001, because the mother, Joli (Taylor) Reichart (aka Tina Jordan; aka Tina Peters; aka Joli Peters) fled the state with her daughter in 1991, Alese Reichart (aka Alese Peters; aka Nicole Jordan; aka Nicole Peters), and eventually settled in hiding in Tucson, Arizona. There, around 1996/7, Joli and Alese converted to the Jehovah's Witnesses, and Joli married a JW named Dan Peters.
During the bitterly contested divorce, in which Michael accused Joli of being mentally unstable and unfit to parent, Joli accused Michael Reichart of sexually abusing Alese. When the state's investigation appeared that it would fail to substantiate Joli's accusations, Joli fled the state. Michael Reichart was legally granted sole custody of Alese after the disappearance, in December 1991. 
Learning that Federal and State authorities were finally about to catch up with them in November 2001, Joli and Alese allegedly hid out for two weeks at the home of a Jehovah's Witness friend, whom they made sure to report did not have a clue about their fugative status. Authorities eventually caught up with Alese when she returned to school. Alese herself accused her father of molesting her, but many experts believe that Alese's beliefs are a result of Joli's persuasion over the years. Michael has never been charged with such crimes, and subsequently remarried. Michael and his current wife's efforts to develop a relationship with Alese failed, and they agreed to allow Alese to return to Tucson to live with Dan and Joli Peters. Alese soon thereafter turned 18. Most charges against Joli Peters in Arizona and Illinois were eventually dropped. Joli was finally sentenced to two years of probation, which she was allowed to serve in Tucson.

WADE v. WADE was a 1999 Florida appellate court decision which involved Glenn T. Wade, Barbara E. Wade, and their two children, Cory Wade and Katrina Wade. The Wades were divorced in January 1987. Glenn was designated the residential parent of Cory, while Barbara was designated the residential parent of Katrina. The dissolution judgment required Glenn to pay $50 per week in child support for Katrina, while Barbara was not required to pay any support for Cory.
Glenn stopped paying the $50 child support for Katrina after December 1987, because Barbara and Katrina moved from Florida to Illinois. Glenn testified that Barbara had converted to the Jehovah's Witnesses, and that she wanted to rear Katrina as a JW without any interference from him. In exchange for Glenn foregoing any visitation with Katrina, and essentially staying out of their lives, Barbara supposedly agreed to forget about the $2600 per year child support.
There was no contact for NINE YEARS. Then, the Jehovah's Witness sued her former husband for all of the back child support, and even sought to hold Glenn in contempt for nonpayment. The Jehovah's Witness claimed that she did not know how to contact him, and that she did not have the money to hire an attorney. Even more outrageous is that the state of Florida went after Glenn Wade. Wade thereafter lost one court battle where he attempted to avoid payment via the doctrine of laches. Eventual outcome unknown.
WILSON v. WILSON was a 1999 Indiana appellate court decision. Larry Wilson and Julie Wilson's marriage was dissolved in 1993. Although he was "inactive" at that point in time, because of Larry Wilson's prior association with the Jehovah's Witnesses, Julie Wilson insisted that the dissolution decree specifically incorporate the agreement that "the Wife shall have physical custody of said minor child and shall have the right to make the normal religious and medical decisions of a custodial parent and the Husband shall have the right of visitation." In 1998, Julie Wilson filed for sole custody due to the fact that Larry Wilson was ignoring her wishes that he not take their son to the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah's Witnesses. The trial court proceeded to throw out the dissolution provision which granted Julie Wilson the right to make the religious decisions regarding the child. Such was reinstated by this appellate court, stating:
"It is well-settled that divorcing spouses have more flexibility in crafting their own property settlement agreements than do divorce courts. ... Parties may agree to provisions which a trial court could not order. ... A property settlement agreement which is merged and incorporated into a divorce decree is a binding contract. ... A trial court should not interfere with a property settlement agreement provision for child custody and support unless the agreement, even where less than ideal, is clearly against the best interests of the child. ...
"Here, our review of the record reveals that, at the time of the dissolution, Julie anticipated conflict with Larry over Wesley's religious training because of Larry's previous involvement in the Jehovah's Witnesses. Because of her concern, Julie had some reservations about a joint custody arrangement. Therefore, she requested a provision in the property settlement agreement giving her the authority to determine the religious decisions as to Wesley. There is no evidence that Larry objected to the custodial provision providing Julie with the right to make the normal religious and medical decisions for the minor child. As a result, this provision was incorporated into the parties' final dissolution decree.

"Against the wishes of the mother, Larry subsequently began taking Wesley to Jehovah's Witnesses meetings and on door to door solicitations. The evidence is unrefuted that after attending such meetings, Wesley became very critical of his mother. Wesley also demonstrated confusion and distress about religion. Specifically, Julie's counsel explained as follows: "The child comes home saying things like, church is bad, and when mother tries to tell him that's not appropriate, that church is not a bad thing, he argues and appears to be very confused about these things." ... Wesley has also been having problems at school. Julie expressed her concerns to Larry, reminded him about the provision in their settlement agreement and asked him not to take their son to Jehovah's Witnesses meetings. Larry responded that the provision "didn't mean anything."
The trial court also granted Larry Wilson permission to provide child care while Julie Wilson was at work. Julie Wilson objected due to Larry Wilson's physical condition. Her attorney indicated that Larry Wilson was receiving full-time disabiltiy benefits due to heart surgery more than 10 years ago. This appellate court affirmed the lower court's decision noting that Larry Wilson's health was such that he had recently helped construct a new Kingdom Hall of Jehovah's Witnesses in Lafayette.


HYBERTSON v. HYBERTSON was a 1998 South Dakota Supreme Court decision. Robert Hybertson and Theresa Hybertson were married in September 1979, and they had two children. Their marriage began to deteriorate after Robert joined the Jehovah's Witnesses religion. Theresa claimed Robert continually tried to impose his newfound religious practices on her and the children and that such caused her significant mental suffering. In June 1995, Theresa filed for divorce. Because divorce, other than on grounds of adultery, goes against WatchTower Society teachings, Robert would not agree to a divorce on grounds of "irreconcilable differences". At trial, the court found that, as a result of Robert's actions concerning his religion, Theresa experienced depression, frustration, abandonment, and felt hurt and lost. It therefore granted a divorce on the grounds of "extreme mental cruelty". The trial court granted custody of the children to Theresa, and set up a visitation schedule for Robert. The visitation schedule provided that the parties were to divide visitation on the holidays to the extent that each of them celebrated a particular holiday. Robert appealed; raising the following issues: "(1.) Whether the trial court's finding of extreme mental cruelty was clearly erroneous. (2.) Whether the trial court erred in restricting Robert's holiday visitation to only those holidays observed by him as a Jehovah's Witness" The South Dakota Supreme Court ruled against Robert on both issues, stating in part:
"The trial court's findings that Robert's actions caused Theresa to feel depressed, frustrated, lost, abandoned, and hurt are supported by the evidence. Theresa testified that she felt abandoned by Robert and that his religion was like a 'mistress'. She felt like she and the children were living in a 'Gestapo' environment. Robert would tell Theresa that she would not live in paradise on earth if she was a nonbeliever and that she would 'just lay in the dirt'. Theresa claims she is no longer able to have a normal conversation with Robert, as he continually states he is there to teach her and the children. He is always quoting Bible verses to her. Theresa also became depressed and felt abandoned because Robert is no longer involved in their former family practices. His religion does not allow him to celebrate holidays and birthdays, or be concerned with other worldly things. This, she claims, has caused a severe rift in the family. She also is concerned over the effect this has had on their children. She specifically worries about some of his beliefs, i.e., he would never permit them to have a blood transfusion should it be necessary.
"Robert claims the United States Constitution and the South Dakota Constitution prevent his religious beliefs from being the basis of grounds for divorce. However, he mischaracterizes the trial court's decision. Robert's beliefs are not the basis of the extreme cruelty, his own actions are. As recognized in Pochop, religious backgrounds may be considered in looking at the marital relationship and whether extreme cruelty exists. ... As the trial court found, Robert has a right to his own beliefs, but he does not have the right to force those beliefs on Theresa. ...
"It must also be stressed that this is not a situation where Robert was a Jehovah's Witness at the time of the marriage. It was the drastic change through Robert's conversion, coupled with his personal actions towards Theresa, that caused the extreme cruelty, not his religion itself. ... ... ...
"... the trial court did not deny Robert any visitation on any holidays which he celebrates. Therefore, it cannot be said the trial court was favoring one religion over another.

"It is also important to note that the holidays considered under the visitation plan are not all religious holidays. Further, the ones that are religious also have significant secular meaning and, to the extent that Robert were to recognize a secular celebration of those holidays, he would also have visitation rights. Holidays are typically allocated in visitation arrangements because of parents' strong desires to celebrate the holidays with their children, and vice versa. Robert does not celebrate any holidays, so there is not that same need to be together with his children on those days.

"He has also been granted very liberal visitation, so there is no apparent favoring of Theresa and her religion over Robert's. The trial court specifically stated that it was offering no direction on what religious training to provide the children, and was leaving that decision ultimately up to both parents and the desires of the children. The visitation order in no way inhibits Robert's religion, nor does it advance Theresa's. Indeed, for purposes of the visitation order, the holidays specified are either secular or recognized for their secular aspects.

"This is not a situation where the trial court favored one religion over another. Robert is not being prevented from practicing his own religion, nor is he prevented from sharing his religion with his children. Granting holiday visitation to a parent, for secular purposes, does not run afoul of the constitution. ... In the present case, the visitation order merely accommodates the parent who celebrates the holiday. Robert has been granted liberal visitation, and not having custody of the children on a holiday he chooses not to celebrate does not infringe on any of his religious rights."


DOUGLAS A. LATSHAW v. ALITA DAVIS was a 1997 Florida appellate decision which aptly demonstrates why only experienced attorneys should be hired if a non-JW party wishes to stand a chance in court. In this case, Douglas Latshaw had a daughter out-of-wedlock with a Jehovah's Witness, named Alita Davis, in 1994, and Doug Latshaw was seeking custody -- unsuccessfully. A significant part of Latshaw's argument for custody was the negative impact that the WatchTower religion would have on his child.

At trial, Latshaw's attorney brought in a former JW who had testified as an expert witness in other custody cases involving a parent who was a JW. However, prior to trial, that expert had not observed nor talked with Alita Davis nor the couple's three year-old child, thus the trial court concluded that he was not qualified to testify as an expert. While some courts during the 1970s and 1980s might have permitted that expert to testify "generally" about Jehovah's Witnesses and custody issues, by 1997, few if any courts might allow such generic testimony. An experienced attorney should have been aware of that evolution in the law. It also should be understood that while JWs or former JWs understand that the WatchTower Society seeks uniformity amongst JWs, and does accomplish such to a significant degree, this is something that non-JWs simply do not understand, and cannot be made to understand. Expert testimony regarding the effect of the WatchTower religion now must relate specifically to the parties in the custody case.

At trial, Latshaw's attorney also brought in a second expert witness who was a professional who had previously counseled the couple. Unbelievably, that "expert" had not been questioned to determine if Davis had waived the confidentiality privilege attaching to her meetings with him. She had not, so the trial court did not permit him to testify either.

Thirdly, Latshaw's attorney made no proffer as to what the testimony of either of the two expert witnesses would have been. It was therefore impossible for an appellate court to determine whether the trial court's rulings were erroneous, or if erroneous, whether such resulted in prejudicial error requiring a new trial.


ANGELICA v. ANGELICA was a 1997 Connecticut trial court decision. Dennis Angelica and Deborah Ann (Mondo) Angelica were married in May 1977. A son was born in 1984. Both parties were Jehovah's Witnesses, and they both worked in the janitorial business which they owned and operated (many, many Jehovah's Witnesses own janitorial or cleaning businesses). The couple separated in February 1996, and Deborah Ann (Mondo) Angelica subsequently filed for divorce; which was granted by this court.
Deborah Ann (Mondo) Angelica claimed that the marriage was irretrievably broken primarily due to Dennis Angelica's anti-social behavior of exposing himself to clients of the their cleaning business, which started in 1994. Additionally, in June 1995, while driving to Florida to attend his father's funeral, Dennis Angelica had sex with a hitchhiker. After Dennis Angelica dropped his trousers in the presence of some female clients in 1996, his wife and he separated. Dennis Angelica claimed that the problem with the marriage was depression suffered by Deborah Ann (Mondo) Angelica after the birth of the son. He claimed that his wife thereafter was not sexually responsive, and rejected him. (Frigidity is a common problem among Jehovah's Witness females.)
Dennis Angelica consulted with the Elders at his local Kingdom Hall of Jehovah's Witnesses, and engaged in therapy for his abnormal behavior, but the therapy was unsuccessful. During the trial, Dr. Leslie M. Lothstein testified for Dennis Angelica, stating: "In my opinion, Mr. Angelica does not pose a risk to females nor to his son. He is aware of his need to stay in counseling for a period of time in order to achieve a better understanding of his reaction to stress and family conflict There is no evidence that he has an addictive or compulsive sexual disorder."


BAKER v. BAKER was a 1997 Tennessee appellate court decision. Paul David Baker and Patricia Baker were married on April 8, 1980, and they had a son and two younger daughters. In 1991, Patricia Baker divorced Paul David Baker, and she was awarded custody; with Paul David Baker receiving specific visitation rights.
Prior to the divorce, Patricia Baker and the minor children attended services at East Maryville Baptist Church. As the custodial parent, Patricia Baker exercised her right to provide for the children's religious education by continuing to attend East Maryville Baptist Church. There, the children were actively involved with many youth-related programs, including youth rallies and retreats.
In July 1995, Paul David Baker began to study the Jehovah's Witness religion during weekly study sessions held at his home. In December 1995, he began to regularly attend services at the local Kingdom Hall of Jehovah's Witnesses.  Around September or October of 1995, he introduced the three minor children to the WatchTower religion by scheduling his weekly in-home study sessions during the children's visitation. Paul David Baker's instructor was a local Elder of the Jehovah's Witnesses named Charles Tillett. Tillet and Baker quickly included the three children in their studies. Tillet and Baker criticized the children's Baptist faith and taught the children that Jehovah's Witnesses were the only true religion and the only way to God. Paul David Baker refused to take the children to activities or services at the East Maryville Baptist Church. Additionally, per WatchTower teachings, Paul David Baker also began discouraging the children's participation in some school and community activities because he believed that the children should not participate in worldly activities.
As custodial parent, Patricia Baker requested that Paul David Baker stop teaching their three children the WatchTower religion, but he ignored her instructions - forcing her to obtain a temporary restraining order in February 1996 prohibiting Paul David Baker from discussing the Jehovah's Witness religion with the children. In 1996, there were a series of hearings after Paul David Baker contested the restraining order and filed for additional visitation.

Patricia Baker testified that after the children began the Jehovah's Witness weekly studies they became withdrawn and moody. The children's attitudes and personalities changed in a negative manner. Patricia Baker experienced increased difficulties in disciplining the children. Amanda, the middle child, began suffering from significant stomach problems and would become physically sick. The stomach aches would begin right before the children went to Paul David Baker's house for weekend visitation. Patricia Baker also testified that Amanda would usually have stomach aches for a day or two after coming home from Paul David Baker's weekend visitations.

Chris Edmonds, the Associate Pastor of the East Maryville Baptist Church, testified that the children were concerned with being torn between the religious beliefs of their parents. Amanda had come to Mr. Edmonds several times asking him to pray for her about this issue in her life. Mr. Edmonds testified that all of the children's attitudes had changed but that the oldest child, Dustin, had undergone the most drastic change, often being confused and depressed.
Patricia Baker sent the children to meet with Lisa Davis, a licensed clinical social worker. Ms. Davis' report, introduced into evidence at trial, acknowledged that the children were experiencing genuine conflicts. She stated that the children told her that Mr. Baker and Mr. Tillett attempted to convince them that the Jehovah's Witness religion is the only true way to God. Ms. Davis reported that the children felt they would experience negative repercussions if they tried to express their true feelings to their father. Amanda, the middle child, also told Ms. Davis that she felt coerced into her involvement with the Jehovah's Witness religion.

Charles Tillett, the Jehovah's Witness Elder, testified in Paul David Baker's behalf that he had not observed any confusion or depression from the children. Dr. Carol Walton, a psychologist who evaluated the children on behalf of Paul David Baker, testified that the religious differences were not the source of the children's stress, but that the parents' conflict about their religious differences was the source of the children's anxiety. However, Dr. Walton acknowledged during cross-examination that she had not questioned the children about the Jehovah's Witness religion.
The Trial Court found that there is "no question that the parties' children have been affected by the conflict between their parents." However, the trial court refused to assess blame. The Court applied the test that when there is a conflict between the parents of minor children with regard to their religious training and influences, the rights of the custodial parent shall prevail. Applying that test, the trial court ordered:
1. Patricia Sue Baker Sanders has the primary right to determine the religious faith the children are exposed to, influenced by, and educated with.

2. Paul Baker is specifically prohibited from taking the children to any religious services conducted by the Jehovah's Witnesses. This prohibition shall also include any home bible studies conducted by him or any other member of that congregation. However, Paul Baker is not prohibited from discussing his religion with the children, if the children make legitimate inquiries about the same.

3. Paul Baker shall be prohibited from criticizing the Baptist religious faith and from attempting to undermine the children's religious training received from the custodial mother.

Paul David Baker appealed contending that the Trial Court violated his First Amendment and Tennessee Constitutional protections of free exercise of religion. The appellate court affirmed the lower court's order, but disagreed with the legal basis. This appellate court reasoned:
"Although individuals possess a Constitutional right to the freedom of religion, these rights can be overbalanced by interests of the highest order by the several states. ... The protection of its children is of the utmost importance to states. In visitation cases, the welfare and best interests of the child are the paramount considerations. ... Additionally, courts must also balance the rights of the parents whenever making decisions that will affect the parent/child relationship. However, when the parents remain at odds regarding the children's religious upbringing, the best interests of the child may require some limitations on the rights of either or both of the parents. ...

"In cases involving religious disputes between divorced parents, courts must maintain strict neutrality. ... This neutrality reflects the importance of both parents' religious beliefs. The law tolerates and even encourages, to a point, divorced parents to expose their children to their religious influences, even if divided in their faiths. ... Therefore, a court shall not prefer one parent's religion over another unless the children's health and well being are threatened by one of the parent's religious practices and beliefs. ...

"The majority of courts decline to interfere in religious disputes between divorced parents. However, courts can intervene when a non-custodial parent exposes his or her religious beliefs to minor children upon a clear and affirmative showing that these activities and expressions of belief are harmful to the children. ... The parent that moves to restrict the other parent's right to expose the children to a different religion shall bear the burden of showing clear and affirmative harm.

"The harm to the children resulting from exposure to their parents' conflicting religions must be demonstrated in detail and not simply surmised or assumed. ... A court should consider several factors to determine whether the children's welfare has been adversely affected. Corroborated testimony should be provided as to the children's general demeanor, attitude, health, school work, appetite, or outlook resulting from the alleged religious conflict. ... In support of the alleged harm resulting from the religious conflict, corroborating testimony should be heard from church, school, medical or psychiatric authorities, or any of the children's associates, whether in or out of school. ...

"... In the present case, two expert reports, one from a psychologist and the other from a licensed clinical social worker, were presented as well as the testimony of several individuals, family, friends, a psychologist, and clergy, regarding the resulting affects from the children's exposure to Mr. Baker's religion. The Trial Court held that the conflict between the parents affected the children. Although the Court held that the testimony conflicted somewhat, it nonetheless reached the conclusion that the children were affected by the conflict resulting from exposure to Mr. Baker's religion. The Court based its holding on facts such as Amanda's stomach problems, changes in the children's attitudes, and difficulties in disciplining the children. These facts are sufficient to support a clear and affirmative showing that the conflict resulting from exposure to Mr. Baker's religion is harmful to the children. We decline to require that the children of this state be harmed more than in the present case to satisfy the clear and affirmative harm standard.

"Upon a clear and affirmative finding of harm, a court can issue an order that limits the rights of parents to expose the minor children to their religious beliefs and practices. Courts should devise visitation orders, to the extent possible, that interferes with the parent/child relationship as little as possible. ... The Trial Court prohibited Mr. Baker from taking the children to any Jehovah's Witness religious services or home Bible studies.
However, we find that this order adequately protects the children while still allowing Mr. Baker the opportunity to introduce the children to his religion if the children show an interest. The provision allowing Mr. Baker to discuss his religion upon legitimate inquiries sufficiently protects Mr. Baker's freedom of religion under both the United States and Tennessee Constitutions.

"As also already noted, Mr. Tillett, an elder in the Jehovah's Witness religion, testified that the children did not have to be converted to the Jehovah's Witness religion for Mr. Baker to attain salvation. Therefore, Mr. Baker can fully practice his religion in a manner to attain salvation to the extent that he does so outside the presence of the children, unless the children make legitimate inquiries about the religion. The Trial Court's order only slightly impinges Mr. Baker's freedom to practice his religion under the United States and the Tennessee Constitutions. This limitation is more than substantially supported by the state's utmost interest in protecting children.

"While the Trial Court ordered Mr. Baker not to expose the minor children to the Jehovah's Witness religion, unless the children make legitimate inquiries, the Court did not specify the religion, if any, to which the children may be exposed. The Court only ordered that "[Ms.] Baker has the primary right to determine the religious faith the children are exposed to, influenced by, and educated with." By refusing to prefer a specific religion over another, the Trial Court successfully evaded an entanglement between church and state. ...
"The Trial Court does not mandate that the children be raised in the Baptist faith. Neither does the Court's order prevent the children from converting to the Jehovah's Witness faith if they so choose. The Court crafted its order only to remove the conflict in question and its resulting injury to the children. In fact, the Court wisely and specifically allows Mr. Baker the opportunity to share his religion with his children if they so inquire.

"We hold that the Trial Court properly crafted its visitation order. Ms. Baker can determine the minor children's religious training without violating their constitutional rights. However, children sometimes choose to follow a different religion than their parents. They must have the freedom to follow their religion of choice if different from either of their parents' religion. The Trial Court's order properly allows the children freedom to make religious decisions based upon their personal conscience while protecting the children from their parents' religious conflicts.

"Allowing the children the right to ask about their father's religion properly protects the children's First Amendment constitutional rights. The Trial Court's order properly protects the children from the religious dispute between the parents while allowing the children to make religious determinations for themselves.


MASTROPIERO v. MASTROPIERO was a 1997 Connecticut court case. The 1994 dissolution of their marriage granted joint custody of the three minor children to both parents; with physical custody granted to the Father. In 1996, per the desires of the three children, the Mother filed for and was granted physical custody of the three children. Both parents had remarried. Father was a Jehovah's Witness, and given his demonstrated controlling attitude, I'm guessing he also was an Elder in his local Jehovah's Witness congregation:
"Father, entrusted with primary residence, immediately and unilaterally modified the joint custodial agreement, by effectively changing it to his own sole custody. The judgment, incorporating their agreement, assured each of the parents that they would share educational and medical access and information. ... Father consistently denied mother a role in educational and medical issues from the date of dissolution. He did not disclose the childrens' educational appointments or activities. He did not share the names of their medical or dental practitioners, nor was mother informed of the dates or purposes of their medical or dental appointments. Since the date of the judgment, conflict over the upbringing of the children has increased. Mother has made some contribution to that conflict, but it has been father who has been the major factor in creating the increasing parental discord."
Specifically addressing the "Jehovah's Witness" factor, this court stated:
"The behaviors required by father's commitment to raise the children as Jehovah's Witnesses have been offered as a basis for denying father custody of the children. Such a denial would violate father's right to religious freedom under the First Amendment. It is a fundamental law of our land that a parent may not be deprived of a child's custody based upon religious beliefs. Our constitution forbids this court to evaluate the merits of father's religious practices. ... Further, the Jehovah's Witness religion, as practiced by father, is not a threat to the well being of the Mastropiero children. The children will be limited in some activities that may be seen as valuable in the social development of children. They will not celebrate birthdays or some widely observed holidays. They will not recite the pledge of allegiance nor salute the flag. They will not participate in many group extracurricular activities. They are less likely to attend four years of college. They will not be allowed blood transfusions. They will be expected to spend many hours calling door to door to present their Jehovah's Witness beliefs. But this court has been offered no expert testimony that these religiously based variations from communal norms threaten the childrens' best interests. Nor was any credible evidence presented to indicate that the children were accident prone or afflicted with health problems that were likely to necessitate blood transfusions ... ."
Specifically addressing the Father's "assumption" of sole custody, this court stated:
"Father has consistently and repeatedly refused to disclose the minor childrens' doctor and school appointments to their joint custodial mother. He refused to give mother the childrens' medical insurance cards until pressured by this court, making it impossible for their joint custodial mother to initiate medical care without father's specific approval. He placed lengthy and repeated telephone calls when the children vacationed with their mother. He challenged mother's authority with the children by arbitrarily scheduling religious activities for the children while they vacationed with her, thus interfering with mother's own scheduling choices. He altered the terms of the childrens' school medical releases, eliminating mother's joint custodial role."
Specifically addressing the Father's controlling nature and credibility, this court stated:
Father is controlling. He has limited mother's participation as a joint custodial parent by limiting her decision making powers. When his judgment was questioned, he refused to discuss mother's contrary opinions. Plaintiff mother is less controlling. And more credible. Father was an evasive and argumentative witness who repeatedly chose replies that were adversarially advantageous or that masked his intentions with ambiguity. His testimony was not credible, particularly his representations that the children were free to make their own choices while under his roof.


THAYER v. KNOWLES was a 1997 Minnesota appellate court decision. Donald Knowles and Kary Thayer Maier, who were the parents of five children, divorced in 1997. Kary Thayer Maier appealed the divorce judgment that placed sole physical custody of the three older children, and sole legal control over the religious upbringing of all five children, with Donald Knowles.
The trial court granted Donald Knowles sole legal control over the religious upbringing of all five children due to the fact that that the children had been baptized and reared thus far in the Lutheran faith, and Donald Knowles agreed that he would continue to rear the children in the Lutheran faith. Apparently, at some point after this couple first separated in 1994, Kary Thayer Maier had converted to the Jehovah's Witnesses, and she wanted to convert all five children to the Jehovah's Witnesses. This appellate court rejected Kary Thayer Maier's plethora of arguments that she should be granted physical custody of the three older children; including her assertion that the trial court was prejudiced against her WatchTower religion. However, this appellate court did agree with her that the trial court had overstepped the law when it granted Donald Knowles control over the religious upbringing of the two children in Kary Thayer Maier's physical custody, stating:
"Insofar as it affects the two children in appellant's custody, the court's legal custody provision is improper as a matter of law. Under Minn [law] 'custodian' may determine the religious training of the children unless their 'physical or emotional health is likely to be endangered' or 'emotional development [is] impaired.'

"The trial court did not make any finding of endangerment in this case, nor does the record permit such a finding. Under these circumstances, the court could not limit appellant's freedom to direct the religious training of the two children in her custody. Accordingly, paragraph 24 of the trial court's judgment will be amended to confine to the three older children respondent's declared authority to direct the religious upbringing of the children."


CHANDLER v. BISHOP was a 1997 New Hampshire Supreme Court decision. Scott Chandler and Melody McGall Bishop were the unmarried parents of a six-year-old son. In May 1993, the parties reached a stipulation on physical custody to Bishop and visitation to Chandler that was approved by the superior court. In June 1993, the parties jointly moved to amend the May 1993 stipulation to increase the plaintiff's visitation, which was court approved. During the next few months, the parties orally agreed to further increase visitation. The parties did not seek court approval of this revised arrangement.
While this modified visitation schedule was in place, Scott Chandler, with Bishop's knowledge, began to take their son to meetings at the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah's Witnesses. In December 1994, after the parties had abided by the modified visitation arrangement for approximately fourteen months, a dispute arose as to the child's attendance at the meetings. As a result the defendant stop permitting the modified weekend visitation schedule. 
Scott Chandler responded by filing motions for contempt and injunctive relief. At an April 1995 hearing before the marital master, Scott Chandler sought to maintain visitation as it had been since the parties mutually modified the court-approved agreement. He contended that Bishop was not entitled to alter the modified visitation schedule and thereby deprive him of his opportunity to take his son to WatchTower meetings.

Bishop claimed that she was disturbed by her son's statements and behavior following weekend visitations with Chandler. According to Bishop, the child told her around Halloween that "Halloween was the Devil's holiday"; and around Christmas time that "God said Christmas trees are bad," and "Santa Claus isn't real, Santa Claus are daddies"; and at Easter that "the Easter bunny isn't real."
Bishop also testified that after visits with the plaintiff, the child was belligerent, more difficult to discipline, exhibited poor hygiene, and had lowered self-esteem. According to Bishop, the child's preschool director had noted a marked improvement in the child's attitude after the child ceased overnight weekend visitation with Chandler. Bishop asked that visitation be limited as provided in the court-approved stipulation and amendment.
Finding no outstanding court order beyond that entered on the parties' original stipulation and the amendment thereto, the master ruled that the parties must abide by that order. The master also stated that the Bishop's role as Spencer's sole legal custodian gave her the exclusive right to make decisions concerning the child's religious upbringing. The master found that because the Chandler undermined Bishop's parental authority by denigrating and disapproving of her holiday celebrations, Bishop had "not responded in an unreasonable or unlawful manner in deciding that the child should no longer attend religious functions or meetings with Chandler." The master also found that because the manner in which Chandler had imparted his WatchTower beliefs to his child undermined Bishop's parental authority as sole legal custodian, Bishop could prohibit Chandler from ever taking the child to Jehovah's Witnesses meetings. During the proceedings, the master remarked to Chandler that he should attend a parenting class after telling his son that he believes Halloween is the Devil's holiday. In her recommendation, the master criticized "the way in which [Chandler] has chosen to tell the child 'the truth' about his own [WatchTower] religious beliefs."
Chandler moved for the master to recuse herself and for reconsideration, but was denied. In her recommendations on the motion for reconsideration and motion to recuse, the master went further, stating that Chandler was not free to share his religious beliefs with his child or indoctrinate the child in his religion if doing so interfered with Bishop's right to determine the child's religious upbringing. Chandler appealed alleging bias on the part of the master. He alleges that her disdain for his religion colored her conduct during the hearing and in rendering her decision. 
The Supreme Court ruled that there was no bias on the part of the master. "The master's comments were not a reaction to the expression or content of [Chandler's] religious beliefs, but rather to the manner in which he chose to impart these beliefs to his child. Religious references related to the concerns and temporal welfare of the child may be considered in such a hearing." However, the SC vacated the religious restrictions placed on Chandler's visitation rights:
"... where the master found that defendant could prohibit plaintiff from taking the child to religious meetings, and stated that plaintiff was not free to share his religious beliefs with his child or indoctrinate the child in his religion if doing so interfered with defendant's right to determine the child's religious upbringing, this ruling was in error and was vacated, as there was no evidence the child, as opposed to defendant, was adversely affected or harmed by exposure to plaintiff's religious beliefs. Although the child was a 'little bit put aside' by the fact that his father didn't give him a birthday cake, this hardly justified the religious restrictions imposed. There was likewise no indication that the child's hygienic and behavioral problems stemmed from exposure to plaintiff's religion during periods of visitation. ... ...
"A legal custodian is entitled to make the major decisions regarding the health, education and religious upbringing of a child. Although some States vest legal custodians with the exclusive right to choose the religion of the child, many States refuse to restrict the visitation rights of non-custodial parents absent a showing of harm to the child from exposure to a different religious environment. New Hampshire falls into this latter category. ...
"Courts cannot enjoin non-custodial parents from exposing their children to their faith during visitation periods absent an affirmative showing of harm to the children from such exposure. Confusion or disorientation is insufficient, as is speculative harm, to justify infringement on the non-custodial parent's constitutional rights. Religious restrictions must be based upon an affirmative and specific finding, supported by substantial evidence, that the child's welfare is in fact jeopardized. ... ...
"While [Bishop] testified that [Chandler] made derogatory comments to the child about her and members of her family, she did not testify that these derogatory statements extended to her religious practices. For his part, [Chandler] testified that he talks openly with his son about his religious beliefs and his feelings on the holidays celebrated by the [child's mother]. He insists that he honors [Bishop's] right to raise the child in her religion by instructing his son that he must observe holidays with his mother. (Give me a break!) The fact that [Chandler] told the child that Santa and the Easter bunny, secular manifestations of religious holidays, are nonexistent, and that God disapproves of Christmas trees, fails to demonstrate an affirmative design to demean the defendant's rituals in the eyes of their child. (Judges must be morons.) In short, it is insufficient to assume harm to the child from what some might consider to be [Chandler's] inappropriately blunt expressions of his religious beliefs.


PALMER v. PALMER was a 1996 Nebraska Supreme Court case. Carolyn R. Wah submitted an amicus curiae brief in behalf of the Watchtower Bible & Tract Society of New York, Inc., the ruling corporation of Jehovah's Witnesses. Gary Palmer and Teresa Palmer were married in October 1982. Teresa Palmer had been studying to be a Jehovah's Witness since 1981, and was baptized in July 1984. In 1990, the couple had a daughter. In April 1993, the Teresa Palmer filed a petition for dissolution, and both parties filed for custody of the minor child. The district court ruled that the best interests of the child were that she be placed in the custody of the mother. The father was granted visitation on Tuesday and Thursday evenings, every other Sunday all day, and every Sunday in the afternoon.
Based on evidence presented during the trial that Teresa Palmer took the young child to the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah's Witnesses three times a week, for a total of five hours; plus the fact that Jehovah's Witnesses do not offer a separate Sunday School nor nursery, thus requiring the child to set through a one-hour long service on Tuesday evening, a two-hour long service on Thursday evenings, and a two-hour long service on Sunday mornings, the trial court ruled that neither parent could require the minor child to sit in any regular church service until age seven. However, the child could attend "age-appropriate" religious education for children. Teresa Palmer further testified that she took the young child with her approximately two Sunday afternoons per month when she performed door-to-door recruiting for the Jehovah's Witnesses. The district court ruled that the mother could not take the minor child with her during door-to-door recruiting until the minor child reached age seven.
Assisted and encouraged by the WatchTower Society, Teresa Palmer appealed the two restrictions on meeting attendance and door-to-door recruiting.  The Nebraska Supreme Court accelerated the case and quickly ruled in the WatchTower Society's and Palmer's favor holding that the district court abused its discretion in placing limitations on the custodial mother's right to control the religious upbringing of her minor child in violation of the Free Exercise Clause found in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and article I, Artr. 4, of the Nebraska Constitution. In part, the court stated:
"... it is clear that the beliefs and practices of the mother are burdened in the sense that an important benefit, full custody and parental training of her child, is limited by restrictions on her ability to include Chelsie in her religious practices, i.e., the custodial mother is prevented from including Chelsie in her door-to-door ministry, and she is prevented from taking Chelsie to regular adult religious services until the child reaches age 7. Thus, the Free Exercise Clause is clearly invoked in this case. ...
"... a court may not restrict a parent's fundamental right to control the religious upbringing of a child absent a showing that particular religious practices pose an immediate and substantial threat to a child's temporal well-being. ...
"There is no evidence in the record that the child ... was suffering from any tangible mental stress from attending the Jehovah's Witnesses services or participating in the door-to-door ministry. There is no evidence or even allegation of a threat of physical harm to the child caused by such activities. In fact, the mother testified that attendance and participation in the religious activities of both parents would be healthy for Chelsie and provide a basis for the child to determine which religion she would prefer when she reaches a sufficient age of understanding."


WICKLUND v. WICKLUND was a 1994-6 Washington appellate court case which involved Ward T. Wicklund, Corinne A. Wickland, and their three daughters; ages 13, 10, and 8; and one son, age 5. When they married, Ward and Corinne were both active members of the Jehovah's Witnesses. Their WatchTower religion played an important part in the family's life. The Wicklunds ended their marriage in 1994. Corinne and the children remained active members of the faith after the divorce. Subsequent legal actions included custody matters, financial issues, but specifically restrictions on both Ward and Corinne's conduct in the parenting plan provision. The restrictions on Corinne are not known, but due to Ward's change in lifestyle to homosexuality, the trial court prohibited Ward Wicklund from exhibiting or participating in displays of affection with a male partner while caring for his four children.
The appellate court removed the unknown restrictions on Corinne's conduct, and also removed the restrictions on Ward's conduct. The Washington appellate court ruled that the trial court had prohibited Ward Wicklund from "practicing homosexuality". The court further ruled:
We hold that the trial court erred by restricting Ward's conduct based on his sexual orientation. The evidence showed only that the children experienced difficulty adjusting after their parents' separation. But where the only harm is adjustment, the remedy is counseling, not restrictions on the parents' lifestyle in terms of sexual orientation. Accordingly, we reverse the restrictions.
GAGO v. ACEVEDO was a 1995 New York appellate court decision. Augustin Gago and Alma Acevedo were the parents of a son. Although the decision does not provide all details, it appears that Alma Acevedo initially held physical custody; with Augustin Gago exercising visitation rights. Evidently, Augustin Gago filed for physical custody, and the family court agreed. Alma Acevedo appealed; contending that by awarding primary custody to the father, the trial court improperly interfered with her right to rear the child as a Jehovah's Witness. The appellate court disagreed, stating:
"... the record indicates that the father provided the child with the structure that the child needed and a generally stable home environment during his visitation periods. Further, the father fostered the mother-son relationship. The mother, however, failed to promote stability in the home and the child's intellectual development to the same degree as the father, although she had primary custody. Moreover, the mother persistently interfered with the father's visitation rights by making unfounded allegations of child abuse against the father, by coaching the child to make false allegations of abuse, and by causing disruption to the child's visitation and vacation plans with his father. Interference with the relationship between a child and a noncustodial parent by the custodial parent is an act so inconsistent with the best interests of the child that it raises, by itself, a strong probability that the offending party is unfit to act as a custodial parent. ...

"The mother contends that by awarding primary custody to the father, the trial court improperly interfered with her right to raise the child as a Jehovah's Witness. The courts may consider religion as one of the factors in determining the best interests of a child, but religion alone may not be the determinative factor. ... Although the mother was studying to become a Jehovah's Witness, neither she nor the child was baptized in that religion. Further, although the child was aware of the proscription of the Jehovah's Witnesses against celebrating Christmas and birthdays, he had not yet studied their religion. Thus, he had not developed any actual religious ties to the religion of the Jehovah's Witnesses. ... Moreover, there is no evidence in the record that, because the father permitted the child to choose whether he would participate in certain holiday or birthday celebrations, the child's well-being was threatened. Under these circumstances, the trial court did not improvidently exercise its discretion by declining to intrude on either parties' right to educate the child in their respective religions. ..."
MAY v. MAY was a 1995 Oregon appellate court case. William May and Karen May, who were the parents of three sons, divorced in May 1992. Despite her having a history of past drug and alcohol abuse, the trial court awarded Karen May custody of the five and sixteen year old sons. Custody of the ten year son was awarded to William May. In July 1993, William May sought modification of custody of the five year old, only. Among the bases for the request were Karen May's renewed excessive drinking, her neglect of the child, and her destruction of the marital home in which she and the child had been granted the right to live temporarily. The trial court held a hearing on the motion and concluded, without explanation, that William May "has failed to meet his burden of proof." The trial court did change visitation, however, commenting:
"William May's [Jehovah's Witness] religious views and Karen May's personal philosophy clash on every conceivable issue related to patenting the children. The stress attached to this conflict has adversely effected the ability of each party to co-operate on William May's visitation. ... Karen May believes that William May's religion requires William May to constantly proselytize [child] to William May's religion which would result in total alienation of [child] from his Mother."
William May appealed and argued that the trial court erred in failing to conclude that a "substantial change in circumstances"had occurred, and that it was in the child's best interests to be in his custody. Karen May failed to respond to the appeal. The appellate court agreed, and awarded custody of the five year old to William May, reasoning:
"A party requesting a modification of custody must show both a substantial change in circumstances and that the modification of custody would be in the child's best interests. ... Although the decision of the trial court is regarded as persuasive, particularly regarding matters of credibility, we are not bound by the trial court's decision. ... Moreover, in this case, the trial court made no findings that one party was more credible than another; the court offered no explanation for its decision that father had failed to meet his burden of proof.

"A number of factors may constitute a change of circumstances sufficient to warrant a modification of custody. Among them are the instability of the custodial parent and the custodial parent's neglect of the child. ... Isolated instances of misconduct will not suffice. There must be proof that the custodial parent's actions were 'of a nature or number that reflect a course of conduct or pattern of inadequate care which has had or threatens to have a discernable adverse effect upon the child.' ...

"Based on our careful review of the record, we conclude that father has met his burden of proof. There has been a substantial change of circumstances since the entry of the original dissolution judgment, and it is now in the best interests of [child] to be in the custody of his father. Mother repeatedly consumed alcohol to the point of extreme intoxication at home, in front of the child and in public. Her drinking caused her to act in ways and to fail to act under circumstances that threatened the physical welfare of the child. She left [child] at home for extended periods of time while she went drinking. She failed to provide basic care for him, including clean clothes, regular meals and baths. She allowed [child] to live in squalid and unsanitary conditions for extended periods of time.

"Father, meanwhile, has remarried. His and his new wife's relationship with [child] is, in the child's own words, "excellent." Father has been steadily employed, cares for both children and provides for their basic needs. Although father's religion generally requires its adherents to refrain from contacting nonbelievers, father has testified that he will not allow that to interfere with visitation with mother, and father's conduct during the year following the dissolution bears that out. We do not agree with the trial court's apparent conclusion that father's religious views outweigh all other considerations in determining the best interests of the child. Under these facts, and considering father's express intention to allow mother reasonable and seasonable visitation with [child], we conclude that the best interests of [child] require a modification of custody from mother to father."


GARRETT v. GARRETT was a 1995 Nebraska appellate decision. Larry Garrett and Jeanne Garrett were married on January 29, 1982. At the time of the divorce trial, Larry was 46 and Jeanne was 33. The couple had four children; ages 10, 8, 6, and 20 months. Larry Garrett filed the petition for divorce on March 23, 1993. He requested custody of the couple's minor children due to Jeanne Garrett's chronic depression, and the fact that she was rearing the children in her Jehovah's Witnesses religion.

On April 1, the court took legal custody of the children and placed them in the physical custody of Larry Garrett. On July 7, the court on its own motion requested an additional hearing regarding the temporary custody and temporary visitation issues. Based on a report from Dr. John Meidlinger, a certified clinical psychologist appointed by the court to conduct an independent evaluation and prepare recommendations for custody in the Garretts' case, the court ordered that the children should remain in the custody of the court, but that it would be in the best interests of the children to place them in temporary foster care, with visitation granted to each parent. On October 4, Jeanne Garrett filed a motion requesting that the children be removed from foster care and temporarily placed in Jeanne Garrett's physical custody. The district court received into evidence a new report from Dr. Meidlinger which indicated that foster care was no longer in the best interests of the children. On October 26, the district court issued an order wherein the court maintained custody over the children, with temporary physical custody of the children awarded to Jeanne Garrett; with weekend visitation rights granted to Larry Garrett.

The divorce trial was held on December 9 and 10, 1993. The main issue in question at the trial was custody of the children. Two psychologists, Dr. Fix and Dr. Meidlinger, had examined Larry, Jeanne, and the four minor children and were called as expert witnesses to testify as to each parent's qualifications for obtaining custody.

Dr. Meidlinger described Jeanne as having "significant problems," including the fact that she suffered from what appears to be chronic depression. He noted that she came from a dysfunctional family and tended to be angry, tense, bitter, rigid, and resentful. Dr. Meidlinger also stated that Jeanne tended to be rather distant and emotionless in her presentation. However, Dr. Meidlinger testified that Jeanne had made vast improvement since he first visited with her. He reported that Jeanne had consulted her physician and was currently taking antidepressant medication, as well as continuing her outpatient counseling. Additionally, Dr. Meidlinger was impressed that Jeanne returned to him voluntarily to seek further help and that they had discussed continuing counseling in the future. Dr. Meidlinger testified that Jeanne's energy level was increasing, that she was experiencing fewer symptoms of depression, and that she was more prepared to take on the responsibility of caring for her children.

Dr. Meidlinger testified that his first impression of Larry was that Larry was friendly, outgoing, and charming. However, the tests that Larry took indicated that he was trying to present himself in the best possible light, rather than being open and honest. Dr. Meidlinger reported that further counseling sessions revealed that Larry was attempting to polarize the children by talking about the divorce when he visited with them and repeatedly saying bad things about Jeanne. Dr. Meidlinger testified that because of this polarization, the children were not capable of making a mature, responsible choice regarding which parent they would rather live with. However, Dr. Meidlinger did note that the children generally stated that they preferred to live with their mother. Dr. Meidlinger indicated that Larry's actions in this regard showed that he was more concerned with himself and his winning the case than he was for the actual welfare of the children. Dr. Meidlinger determined that it would be in the best interests of the children to have custody granted to Jeanne.

After Dr. Meidlinger issued his report, Larry sought a second opinion from Dr. Fix. Dr. Fix tested and interviewed Larry, Jeanne, and the four minor children. He determined that Jeanne suffered from chronic depression, and that Jeanne might be subject to flareups of depression symptoms. Two of the children told Fix that they preferred to live with Larry. Dr. Fix determined that though neither Larry nor Jeanne was unfit, Larry would be in a better position to be a parent.

In addition to Dr. Fix, Larry called a number of witnesses to testify about the effect of Jeanne Garrett's WatchTower religion on the children, since Jeanne Garrett was also rearing the children as Jehovah's Witnesses. As such, the children were discouraged from participating in birthday celebrations and the Pledge of Allegiance at school. Larry Garrett's expert witness on the Jehovah's Witnesses gave many reasons as to his opinion that the Jehovah's Witnesses are a cult.

A teacher from the children's elementary school, Lois Dimmitt, testified that the children had trouble understanding why they are not allowed to participate in holiday, birthday, and patriotic activities; and that such made the children feel awkward. Larry testified that in addition to the restrictions on school activities, the children were discouraged from celebrating any holiday, with the exception of a Jehovah's Witness holiday, called the Memorial.

Jeanne Garrett testified that as a Jehovah's Witness, she would refuse to allow any of her children to receive a blood transfusion, even if the child's life was in peril and the transfusion was desperately needed. Jeanne testified that she would request that the physicians use alternative methods of treatment.

Both parties also presented testimony indicating that the other party inflicted excessive corporal punishment on the children in isolated instances. The record also reflected that the oldest child had refused to accompany her siblings on visitation trips to Larry's residence after temporary custody was awarded to Jeanne because that daughter felt that Larry did not care for the children as well as Jeanne did.

The district court determined that custody of the children should be awarded to Jeanne. The district court noted that Larry had attempted to show that Jeanne's religion adversely impacted the children, but held that no evidence was submitted to the court which would demonstrate that the mother's religious convictions or possible activity limitations would be detrimental to the proper development of the children's personality or well being, stating in part:

"The totality of the evidence reveals that each party has a psychological problem which could adversely affect and impact on the children. Mr. Garrett, through his behaviors in the instant matter, has confirmed Dr. Meidlinger's opinion that Mr. Garrett has attempted to be manipulative throughout these proceedings, has at times avoided frankness and candor, and has overly involved the children in the custody controversy. The evidence also reveals that Mr. Garrett has followed through on recommendations concerning counseling, but the evidence does not reveal that Mr. Garrett's approach to the custody issue and custody problems have been positively effected.

"Mrs. Garrett has and does suffer from chronic depression. The evidence reveals that the depression in the past and currently is controllable by medications and counseling. The records indicate that Mrs. Garrett has acknowledged her problem, has obtained suitable and proper medical assistance, and will continue in the future to participate in the necessary help programs to regulate her condition."

The Court of Appeals held that the trial record was devoid of any expert testimony indicating that mother's religious practices were imminently harmful to children or that mother's religious practices posed immediate and substantial threat to minor children's temporal well-being. Affirmed, stating in part:

"... The ultimate test in determining the appropriateness of an award of custody of minor children is reasonableness, as determined by the facts of each case, and the trial court's determination will be affirmed in the absence of an abuse of discretion. ... ...

"In determining a child's best interests under [Nebraska law], the court may consider factors such as general considerations of the moral fitness of the child's parents, including the parents' sexual conduct; respective environments offered by each parent; the emotional relationship between the child and the parents; the age, sex, and health of the child and the parents; the effect on the child as a result of continuing or disrupting an existing relationship; the attitude and stability of each parent's character; parental capacity to provide physical care and satisfy educational needs of the child; the child's preferential desire regarding custody if the child is of sufficient age of comprehension, regardless of chronological age, and when such child's preference for custody is based in sound reason; and the general health, welfare, and social behavior of the child. ... ...

The free exercise clause of the first amendment to the U.S. Constitution forecloses governmental regulation of religious beliefs. ... Courts must preserve an attitude of impartiality between religions and may not disqualify a parent solely because of his or her religious beliefs. ... ...

"... Courts have a duty to consider whether religious beliefs threaten the health and well-being of a child. ... Thus, when a court finds that particular religious practices pose an immediate and substantial threat to a child's temporal well- being, a court may fashion an order aimed at protecting the child from that threat. ... In so doing, a court must narrowly tailor its order so as to result in the least possible intrusion upon the constitutionally protected interests of the parent. ...

"Thus, in order for Jeanne's religion to constitute a ground for awarding custody to Larry, we must be able to determine from the record that the Jehovah's Witness religion as practiced by Jeanne constitutes an immediate and substantial threat to the minor children's temporal well-being. Courts from other jurisdictions that have dealt with this same issue have come down on both sides. ...

"As evidence of an immediate and substantial threat to the minor children, Larry makes reference to the fact that even in the case of a medical emergency, Jeanne would refuse to consent to any of the children's receiving a blood transfusion. There is also testimony in the record from a teacher and the principal at the minor children's elementary school indicating that Jeanne's insistence that the children not participate in the celebration of any birthday or holiday, as well as the fact that they are not allowed to pledge allegiance to the flag, causes the children to feel confused and separated from the other children.

"The problem with Larry's argument is that the record is devoid of any expert testimony indicating that Jeanne's religious practices are imminently harmful to the children. The U.S. Constitution flatly prohibits any court from evaluating the merits of religious doctrine or defining the contents of that doctrine. ... While activities like celebrating birthdays and holidays, saying the Pledge of Allegiance, and participating in extracurricular activities are considered by most people to play an important role in the socialization of children, 'we need to separate the value judgments implicit in the so-called norm from any actual harm caused by these practices.' ... The record in the instant case contains no convincing evidence indicating that the limitations Jeanne places on the minor children's activities constitute a threat of immediate and substantial harm to the children. Therefore, we cannot say that Jeanne's actions in this regard negatively impact on her ability to be the custodial parent. ...

"... Likewise, regarding Jeanne's refusal to consent to a blood transfusion for her children even in the event of an emergency, no evidence was presented showing that any of the minor children were prone to accidents or were plagued with any sort of affliction that might necessitate a blood transfusion in the near future. We cannot decide this case based on some hypothetical future accident or illness which might necessitate such treatment. ... Facts such as the statistical frequency of blood transfusions for normal children and the degree of risk involved in taking or refusing blood or chemical substitutes must be proved by proper evidence, like any other facts.

"Larry did not present sufficient evidence to convince us that Jeanne's religious practices pose an immediate and substantial threat to the minor children's temporal well-being, so we are constitutionally prohibited from probing into the substance of Jeanne's religious beliefs and interpreting them for ourselves.


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