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Can one judge's religious beliefs affect a child custody case?

While many Illinois residents are familiar with the phrase 'separation of church and state,' a case out of Minnesota this month has some people wondering whether a judge's religious views can really have a significant impact on the outcome of a child custody case.

The concerns surrounding the 2011 child custody case began when the mother explained to the court that she wanted to distance her kids from the Baptist beliefs of her husband. According to her husband's beliefs, wives should be submissive to their husbands. When the mother struggled to cite the exact passage, one of the judges allegedly said that she knew which passage the woman was referring to and recalled having the same disapproval at her own wedding.

Although the judge awarded the mother custody of her children, the father appealed. But in the three-judge panel, the prior custody decision was upheld. The question posed was: did the religious views of the judge affect the judge's decision in the child custody case? Despite one of the appeals' court judges saying that her comments had no place in the courtroom, the three-judge panel found no evidence that the judgment was distorted by her views in anyway. And because the husband's attorney did not object to the statement at the time of the hearing, the appeals court saw no reason to reverse the decision now.

As we've mentioned in past posts, when it comes to child custody hearings, judges take every aspect of the case into consideration. In the end, the judge tries to decide which spouse will be most fit to care for the child and whether that parent has the child's best interest in mind. In the end, this is what the appeals court felt the judge had done.

Source: Star Tribune, "Bible verse prompts appeal of Stearns County custody case," Jeremy Olson, April 11, 2013

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