In a recent case out of Tennessee, a mother could face criminal contempt and jail time for baptizing her two children without the father’s knowledge or consent. The issue in this case centers on the mother’s violation of a court order requiring all major decisions regarding the religious upbringing of the children to be made jointly by agreement with the children’s father. If they could not agree, the order required them to attend mediation to resolve their dispute – which never happened.
Father believed that the children, 5 and 7 at the time, should be older when baptized. Mother disagreed and took matters into her own hands, baptizing the children without agreement or even notice to the father. After learning of the baptisms after the fact, father requested that mother be held in both civil and criminal contempt. The trial court held mother in civil contempt, but dismissed the criminal contempt action. Mother appealed and the Court of Appeals reversed both order holding mother in civil contempt and the dismissal of the criminal contempt action, meaning mother still faces fines and jail time for her actions.
Mother argued on appeal that the parenting plan requiring agreement with the father on the religious upbringing of the children amounts to unconstitutional interference with the right that a divorced parent has to influence their children with their religion. Father and the Tennessee Court of Appeals disagree, maintaining that mother should face criminal contempt proceedings due to her violation of a court order.
In Texas unless otherwise limited by court order, unlike the Tennessee order requiring parents to agree, §153.074 of Family Code gives parents the right to direct the moral and religious training of the child during the period that a parent has possession of the child. This can open the door for unilateral action when it comes to religious decisions (like the baptisms in the Tennessee case), especially when parents disagree or have difficulty communicating. When divorcing parents are not on the same page as far as religion is concerned, it is wise to address the right to direct the moral and religious training of the children directly to avoid confusion or conflict should disagreements arise later on.