Sunday, September 25, 2005
The Oregon Court of Appeals considered, as a matter of first impression, whether parenting time plans may interfere with a custodial parent’s religious practices with her child. Though it declined to establish a bright-line rule, the court reversed the trial court's award of a traditional weekend parenting time arrangement that interfered with the religious practices of mother and her then 10-year-old daughter.
In re Christison, 2005 Ore. App. LEXIS 1224 (September 21, 2005)
Opinion on the web at http://www.publications.ojd.state.or.us/A123354.htm (last visited September 24, 2005 bgf)
The case is a good example of how difficult it can be for courts to fairly balance non-traditional religious practices that may strain relationships between the other parent and the child.
Child was born out of wedlock and had lived with Mother up until the time of this action by Father requesting custody, child support and that daughter’s last name be changed to his own. Mother then counterclaimed for paternity, custody and child support.
The trial court granted Mother primary custody, gave Father a traditional weekend visitation schedule and changed the daughter's last name to Father's. The custody evaluator had indicated that Mother’s religious practices – which demanded a strict Sabbath observance from Friday evening until Saturday evening – were important to daughter. Nonetheless, trial court found that mother's "religious practices which are unique and very narrow by traditional standards," prevented her from facilitating "a close and continuing relationship between [father] and [child]" and granted a traditional weekend parenting time schedule.
The Court of Appeals found the comparison of Mother’s religious beliefs with Father’s to be inappropriate and, unless there was proof that Mother’s religious practices harmed the child, the best interests of the child would be to allow her to continue to be formed in the religion she had been practicing with Mother since birth. The Court of Appeals also reversed the trial court’s name change decision, citing the custody evaluator’s suggestion that the name not be changed unless daughter asked that it be changed. The trial court had not asked the daughter for her input, as it refused to meet with the daughter unless that meeting would be off the record. The Court of Appeals noted that this refusal was within the trial court’s discretion, but this also meant there was no clear evidence supporting the requested name change.