Religion’s Role in Custody Battles

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  August 8, 2011 — 56 Comments

A common fear among adherents to minority faiths in the United States is that our beliefs will be used against us in child custody hearings. This is not an imaginary fear, as several modern Pagans have struggled with having their faith being made an issue of in court. I’ve covered this issue periodically almost since this blog started.  From a Wiccan couple barred from teaching their child about Paganism, to the harrowing and bizarre story of Subgenius member Rachel Bevilacqua (aka Rev. Magdalen). Even the mere accusation of adherence to Wicca or modern Paganism is sometimes enough to affect a custody case. In my interview earlier this year with Jen Lepp, founder of the Pagan-owned Internet hosting company DrakNet (now owned by A Small Orange), she made it clear that the company’s move to “de-Pagan” itself came because of pressures resulting from a custody case.

“The fourth year I owned DrakNet, my husband and I got a divorce, and the following year (for a variety of reasons I won’t go into), we entered into a highly acrimonious custody battle. The suit stated outright in it’s initial filing that the basis was the fact that I was Pagan. I hired an attorney who dismissed it as a concern, stating my religion could not be used against me. While I have no doubt the attorney believed that when he told me, he was wrong and his objection was overruled. The county this lawsuit was in was extremely right-leaning, and the Judge in the case relieved me of custody temporarily while my beliefs and their affect on my ability to parent was investigated. Those I knew in the community did offer to rush to my defense, have protests on the courthouse lawn, call the press, and make the case into a circus, but I strongly felt then, as I do now, that a child cannot choose to be at the center of a public controversy. Though I was very, very careful in my answers not to establish any precedent or disclaim or lie about anything I was in the final trial, once I fought back and defended myself and won, I chose not to tempt fate a second time and I left Paganism so that it could not be used against me again.”

Lepp’s experience is in no way unique, and Pagan parents heading back into the closet for the benefit of their children has become a widely acknowledged phenomenon in our interlocking communities.  In 2008 the New York Times reported that issues concerning religion were becoming more common in custody cases, and that judges are increasingly uneasy with the ramifications of having to make value judgments regarding religions. However, a custody case in Kansas involving a Jehovah’s Witness may just offer new hope for Pagan parents worried about losing their children. The Kansas Supreme Court recently upheld a district court’s ruling that it was not qualified to make decisions regarding the mother’s faith in a custody dispute.

“Disapproval of mere belief or nonbelief cannot be a consideration in a custody determination—judges are not trained to mediate theological disputes. Yet consideration of religiously motivated behavior with an impact on a child’s welfare cannot be ignored. It is one of the many relevant factors that must be part of the holistic custody calculus required under Kansas law [...] Just as mere religious beliefs cannot be solely determinative of custody, a court may not speculate about behavior that religious beliefs may motivate in the future…. A court also may not weigh the merit of one parent’s religious belief or lack of belief against the other’s. Nothing in law school or practice in any setting qualifies a judge for this task, and any judicial effort to tackle it is far too likely to lead to the substantial impairment of the free exercise of religion… Courts must be vigilant to avoid invidious discrimination against religious beliefs or practices merely because they seem unconventional. The consideration of religiously motivated actions as a part of holistic evaluation of the best interests of the child, while excluding consideration of religious beliefs, strikes an appropriate balance among the free exercise rights of each parent; the right of each parent to the care, custody, and control of his or her child; and the welfare of the child….”

In short, unless there is obvious religiously-motivated abuse and harm that can be proven, the courts should not be in the business of deciding what religion is better for a child in custody cases. This is a welcome ruling for any parent who fears losing custody simply because the judge has a grudge, or preconceived notions as to what a “Pagan” is. What needs to happen now is for a wider precedent to be set. While I do not wish this on the parent or child in this case, who no doubt want nothing more than for this nightmare to be over, if this ruling is challenged to a higher court and upheld, it could have farther-reaching impact outside of Kansas.

In addition to hoping that rulings like this one help establish a stronger precedent for judges to stay out of making value judgments about personal belief systems, other responses to the problem of parents using the religion against each other in custody battles is increased mandatory mediation sessions, and giving greater agency to the children in these cases. A cocktail of all three could provide a good inoculation against religious discrimination in the courtroom. In the meantime, many Pagans, and other adherents to minority religions, still worry about revealing too much about their faith, lest it be used against them should a marriage fall apart. If you are a Pagan parent worried about custody, I suggest contacting the Lady Liberty League for help and advice. For those who can speak out, becoming more visible and understood is key in demolishing stereotypes about our faiths.

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Jason Pitzl-Waters

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  • Crystal Williams

    If rulings are not carefully worded could someone be able to call Children’s Protective Services based on religious bias even if both biological parents live in the home? What if someone rules Paganism is harmful because of the use of open flames and athames? Would everyone be at risk of losing their children to CPS? Should we be concerned that this could happen?

    • http://www.wildhunt.org/blog/ Jason Pitzl-Waters

      This is exactly why outreach is so necessary, so those “open flames” and (often unsharpened) ritual knives are put into proper context. That they are no more controversial than a Sikh’s blade or a Catholic’s prayer candles.

      • http://PaganCenteredPodcast.com Dave of Pagan Centered Podcast

        There’s still that deeper problem of a lack of oversight over CPS/CYS in many (if not all) states.

        • http://www.facebook.com/people/David-Carron/100001353268347 David Carron

          Oh, you have no idea how right you are… It’s worse as so much “help” comes from Social Workers in the form of Christian religious dogma and support.

    • Carrie_mcmaster

      Crystal, two-parent Pagan families have been reported to CPS here in Texas. In the case I’n referring to, the agency came out, determined the children’s environment was healthy, and took no further action. Re: open flames and athames. As long as the flames are attended to, wouldn’t that be a lot like saying you can remove children from their homes if they parents have a gas stove and kitchen knives?

      • Grimmorrigan

        It can occur. I’ve delved into case loads where Pagans were drug into court because their kids were around : knives, blood, nudity, “odd ritual” —case language, etc. Most ended with a shake of the head and dismissal but a few cases have seen kids taken away. Its not common but all it takes is a fundamentalist judge and an ignorant community. You know…America.

      • Crystal Williams

        I was only using the open flames and athames as an example of something that could be used against Pagans. What I mean to say is that if someone wanted to they can twist things to make them seem dangerous. It’s true for everyone really.

    • Anonymous

      CPS is an animal unto itself. It has closed door hearings with little to no recourse for families to defend themselves. The scales of justice do not exist in family court. The judge takes what CPS says as gospel. The public defenders (pretenders) are mere puppets of CPS as well. I have witnessed this first hand. A member of my kinship lost her baby. My testimony was discredited because I am a “Pagan” minister and had a listing on Witchvox. It is a nightmare that must be brought to light. But this horror is not religious in nature, that’s just one of its guises. It is financially motivated. The states PROFIT from destroying families. They get a bonus from the feds for each child that they put in foster care and another bonus if they adopt them out.

      Sorry for the rant. This is a sore subject for me.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/David-Carron/100001353268347 David Carron

        “The public defenders (pretenders) are mere puppets of CPS as well.”

        As a PD I do take umbrage at that generalization and had a Wiccan client who might suggest otherwise. Frankly my experience is that Family Court hates DCF.

        But unfortunately, you are likely correct on your other points about the system…

        • Grimmorrigan

          Yup. I know a few folks who work for DCF and a few family lawyers. Both speak very ill of each others profession.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/David-Carron/100001353268347 David Carron

      The standard is supposed to be imminent risk of bodily harm to the child. The rule is sounds, but the application of it can be quite flawed. IMHO, it’s a double threat: not just the religious issues but that Pagans are generally not as well connected to the community supports, nor as affluent as the average christian. This is one of the big problems of a minority religion and the need for good lawyering to protect folks…

    • http://www.magickal-media.com Alice C. “A.C.” Fisher Aldag

      Yes. People can complain to any government agency for any reason. Then the burden of proof is on the family to try to convince Big Brother that you are NOT being abusive. It’s completely illegal and unconstitutional.

  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    “While I do not wish this on the parent or child in this case, who no doubt want nothing more than for this nightmare to be over, if this ruling is challenged to a higher court and upheld, it could have farther-reaching impact outside of Kansas.”

    This is a grim quandry of which is the lesser of two evils: For one family to endure the entire grind up to the US Supreme Court, or for some family in every state in Jesusland to have to push up to the respective state supreme court.

    There does not need to be a divorce for there to be a problem, and custody need not be at issue. A remarried Pagan mother I know, with a then-teenage daughter, was put through the mill by the Guardians ad Litem of Lorain County, Ohio. They basically kept trying to convert the daughter. Within the GaLs was a fundamentalist cadre that kept passing the case off to one another, and kept the case alive even though the juvenile court had said the mother was the best person to deal with the problems that had brought the family into court in the first place. The mother finally got free of the mess, but it took several years and the emotional support of the Goddess and fellow Pagans.

    The local ACLU (North Central Ohio Chapter) was absolutely worthless, and the state and national ACLUs went along with that. They haven’t gotten a dime from me since.

  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    “While I do not wish this on the parent or child in this case, who no doubt want nothing more than for this nightmare to be over, if this ruling is challenged to a higher court and upheld, it could have farther-reaching impact outside of Kansas.”

    This is a grim quandry of which is the lesser of two evils: For one family to endure the entire grind up to the US Supreme Court, or for some family in every state in Jesusland to have to push up to the respective state supreme court.

    There does not need to be a divorce for there to be a problem, and custody need not be at issue. A remarried Pagan mother I know, with a then-teenage daughter, was put through the mill by the Guardians ad Litem of Lorain County, Ohio. They basically kept trying to convert the daughter. Within the GaLs was a fundamentalist cadre that kept passing the case off to one another, and kept the case alive even though the juvenile court had said the mother was the best person to deal with the problems that had brought the family into court in the first place. The mother finally got free of the mess, but it took several years and the emotional support of the Goddess and fellow Pagans.

    The local ACLU (North Central Ohio Chapter) was absolutely worthless, and the state and national ACLUs went along with that. They haven’t gotten a dime from me since.

  • http://PaganCenteredPodcast.com Dave of Pagan Centered Podcast

    The broader topic, unfortunately, is not news. For further listening:

    Pagan People Episode 10: Dangerous legal precedents (recorded at PSG 2011) – featuring a legal student who researched dangerous legal precedents against Pagans:
    http://pagancenteredpodcast.com/shows/people/10

    PCP Episode 58: CYA against CYS (recorded in early 2008)
    - Featuring a Pagan who has dealt with CYS
    http://imbleedingprofusely.com/shows/pcp/57

    We covered this again tangentially in PCP Episode 65 with CPS in Texas going after the FLDS church (fast forward to 23 minutes in):
    http://imbleedingprofusely.com/shows/pcp/65

    This is such a persistent issue that it has made our own board of problems affecting Pagans that need solved.

  • Charles Cosimano

    What is ultimately needed, of course, is a Supreme Court ruling that religion may not be considered in such cases at all, unless there is obvious abuse.

    • Norse Alchemist

      Wrong, there should be no consideration of religion even if there is abuse, because that’s what this whole problem is about. There are people who say our ways are the abuse. Take the other kinds of abuse separately, but religion can’t be used as a consideration at all.

      • http://profiles.google.com/camille.klein Camille Klein

        Unless of course Islam is involved, right?

  • Dana Corby

    Jason, I’m glad to see continuing coverage of this issue. While I haven’t had such a problem myself (no kids,) I’ve seen several cases close up, including my ex and his 2nd wife, who had to get rid of all their Wiccan books & things to keep Colo CPS from taking away their mentally-disabled daughter: allegations were made that her exposure to Wicca was what made her ‘crazy,’ even though she was born with a condition known to run in the family. Another friend’s military husband abused their children, aged 4 to 12, until they plotted to kill him; the military reposted him and wouldn’t tell where, the wife’s Paganism was blamed for the kids’ ‘violent tendencies,’ CPS took them and lodged them with fundamentalists over the mother’s and kids’ strong objections. WA state CPS also routinely refuses to give foster-parent or daycare certifications to homes with any evidence of non-Christian beliefs in their decor, such as (get this) stars, rainbows, unicorns, or dragons.

    What’s needed, I think, is something akin to Kerr Cuchulain’s “Law Enforcement Guide to Wicca” for CPS. I started on many years ago but ran out of steam — if anyone would like to collaborate with me to revive it, I think now would be a good time!

    • Anonymous

      I would be very interested in helping. I have some knowledge of CPS in general.

  • http://dianarajchel.com Diana Rajchel

    There is still the very serious problem of activist judges, as some still feel they have the right to impose their version of moral issues on the people that they hear. While the US’s legislative flexibility is at times a good thing, this isn’t one of the cases – my hope is that the standards do become more strict and less flexible in cases of religion and custody.

  • Anonymous

    “Yet consideration of religiously motivated behavior with an impact on a child’s welfare cannot be ignored. It is one of the many relevant factors that must be part of the holistic custody calculus required under Kansas law ”

    Whole lot of wiggle room there, IMHO.

    • Baruch Dreamstalker

      This is where one lobbies for the way the decision is carried out as much as one did the decision proper. “Would the same thing be a problem in a Christian home?” is a question every CPS should be trained to expect — preferably from an immediate supervisor.

  • http://www.facebook.com/sapphire49221 Karen Thoms

    Perhaps we have been on the fortunate end of things. In a custody fight five years ago, the court found that Paganism was not an issue and actually granted greater favorable status to my case as I regularly practice my faith and their father practiced no faith. (In other words, any religion is better than no religion.) The judge also ruled that their father may not interfere should the children wish to also follow this path nor may he disparage my faith in front of the children.
    My current husband was accused of witchcraft in open court nearly twenty years ago and was still awarded custody of all three of his children.
    Both cases were in Michigan but in different (both highly conservative) counties.

    • Guest

      I won the custody battle the ex brought up with religion as it’s basis, too but my lawyer told me if I’d been in front of a “arch-conservative” kind of Judge I could have lost. It’s not the county, it’s the Judges – his example was of a nearby very open-minded, liberal county who has some Judges with deeply backward ideas.

    • Guest

      I’m really glad you also won. When I was going through it, I heard many failure stories and few successes, and I was very scared and sad.

    • Rombald

      “actually granted greater favorable status to my case as I regularly practice my faith and their father practiced no faith. (In other words, any religion is better than no religion”

      But that’s atrocious as well.

  • Guest

    I don’t see how going back in the closet will usually solve anything. If an ex is the vindictive type, s/he’s been keeping track of anything you’ve done in any year that’s “pagan” and it’ll get brought up regardless of whether or not it affects the child.

  • Grimmorrigan

    http://castwidethecircle.wordpress.com/2011/06/ A little academic piece I wrote which spark some interesting debate in my little part of Appalachia. If you ever want to see a cultural history professor stare at you write about Pagans.

  • http://www.magickal-media.com Alice C. “A.C.” Fisher Aldag

    We fought this type of accusation once… not during a divorce, but in the course of false allegations brought against us by an aquaintance. We had our religion tried rather than our parenting skills.

    BTW our kids are making good grades, work, are involved in many causes and extracurricular activities. The accusations were entirely baseless.

    As so often proves true, I did not find this a problem of “conservative” or “right wing” policy; in fact, when taken before a conservative judge, we won! The person who made false allegations was told to cease and desist or face dire legal consequences. And the liberal social “welfare” office found themselves under investigation. Hooray for our side.

    Whatever acronym it’s under, child “welfare” laws are unconstitutional. Charges can be brought without evidence that is necessary in a regular court case. People are viewed as guilty until proven innocent. Parents are not allowed to confront those who have accused them, which is one of the basic rights under American law… the right of an accused to confront the accuser. Social “workers” and family court judges are allowed to inflict their own prejudices in making rulings, often outside of an actual court. Families may not be able to confront witnesses, admit their own evidence. It’s railroading.

    Who suffers the most? The children, often not victimized by their loving families, but by an out-of-control social “welfare” system.

    This isn’t just a Pagan problem, either. There are Christians, Jews and Muslims who face the same troubles. One family who believes in fasting ’til sundown was accused of starving their children. A family whose child has a rare medical disorder, causing brittle bones, was accused of abusing that child. Their Muslim faith was brought into question by social dis-services. And remember the polyamorous Mormons who had their kids removed from the home for no reason other than lifestyle choice?

    However, social services seems to think that children living with parents who are homeless, parents who are drug addicts, parents who have six kids by age 21 and no visible means of support, mothers who are prostitutes… all that seems to be considered acceptable. In fact, when kids are removed from these homes, they’re regularly returned in a matter of months!

    Yet another reason that tax money should not be wasted on social “services”.

    • http://www.magickal-media.com Alice C. “A.C.” Fisher Aldag

      Getting off the soapbox about politics… a family member just suggested that I tell people what we did… give ideas about how to deal with false accusations of abuse based on religion:

      First of all, read and know the law for your state and county. Move for a change of venue from family court to a real court. Bring counter-charges against family court, social services, and the accuser. Document every contact with social dis-services, including names and titles. Counter sue each of them, too. Move to have records admitted to show who brought the accusation. Move to have records showing any evidence of abuse. Have a background check done on the accuser. Document all of the children’s strengths, as well as potential problems, such as a child’s medical needs. Document how those needs are being met. Enlist the support of the ACLU or other legal entity (better yet, if you can afford it, hire an attorney with teeth). Get an expert to testify about your religious practices. Enlist friends and neighbors who have regular contact with the child to speak on your behalf. If they’re not convincing speakers, draw up an affadavit and have ‘em sign it. Last, and this is gonna be painful, enlist the aid of the child to testify in your family’s favor.

      It’s harrowing. Good luck.

      The positive result wasn’t only getting DSS into trouble, and having the accuser get a smackdown, but here in our little tri-county area of Michigan, the parents’ religion or beliefs can no longer be considered a factor in any family court case.

  • Mia

    Do custody cases ever bother to ask the kids what they think or feel about the situation? I’m sure some do, but it feels like that hardly ever happens.

    Kids have valid opinions that should be included in analyzing their quality of life. Even if they’re staying quiet or lying out of fear there’s body language and behavior that offer clues to how the child really feels. It’s not a perfect system, but ignoring them isn’t a good idea either.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_K2GKC3QYSJQD3DPD6V6NCDCCJA Amethyst Dragonflly

      My girls were asked what they wanted, and they answered that they wanted to live with me. But the GAL said that living with their father, who had basically ignored them for 8 years, was better for them than being with the mother, who has always been there for them, because the father made more than 3 times the money I made. So even though they wanted to be with me, it was better to live with him and be ignored but have money, than to be cared for and make him pay child support.

      • Guest

        That’s horrible

      • Mia

        That’s disgusting. I don’t know what to say, but I hope the future holds better things for you, and that they remember that you love them.

    • Guest

      Depends on the age of the child, in some states a child gets to give input at around 12 years. Their views are weighed heavily.
      Before then, they aren’t even present at custody hearings. That’s done to help prevent parents manipulating their children and trying to brainwash them into what to say and so children aren’t scarred by the hearings since things can get really ugly in there.

  • Kelly NicDruegan

    Wonder what would happen if someone filed religious-based child abuse charges against a member of the Kansas based Westboro Baptist Church in a custody case? If any religious group could be considered to have a high potential of “religiously-motivated abuse and harm” for a child it would be this bag of nut-jobs. Or is the fact that they claim to be followers of Christ enough to give them a free pass?

    • Mia

      Westboro has the advantage of studying law left and right to find out where they can get away with what they do. It wouldn’t be much harder for them to figure out how to avoid child custody cases.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_K2GKC3QYSJQD3DPD6V6NCDCCJA Amethyst Dragonflly

    I had the misfortune of having a zelot CASA worker who felt that my Pagan religion and my attraction to dark colored clothing and horror films meant that I was, in her words “mentally deranged, depressed, and a danger to herself and her children, as well as to her ‘so called’ friends, family and neighbors”. This lead to my son being taken 200 miles away, into another state, where I do not get to see him, his father refuses to let him call me, and he screens my son’s emails, so I can’t “influence” my son against his father or prove that I miss him and still love him.

    • Guest

      Can you appeal? Call LLL!!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1369962648 Tina Babb

    Back in 2004, my religion was strongly discussed in my custody case. Most of the time we were in the courtroom it was the topic of choice. I didn’t lose custody but I didn’t get full custody either and the judge sited my religion as the reason. Nevermind that my ex would sleep all day while the 5 year old took care of the 1 year old….I honestly think my only saving grace in all of it was the fact that I don’t force religion on my kids. If they want to go to church, I take them to church. I believe they should be educated about all religions and choose their own path.

  • Eldritchhare

    In the 1980′s, in north Alabama, I divorced my drug addicted, alcoholic husband. Because I am a Pagan, the lawyers informed me that our child would be taken away from BOTH of us. Pagan = drug addicted and alcoholic in the Alabama court’s eyes. I agreed to a very inadequate joint custody arrangement and managed to stay out of court, but my son suffered for more than a year because of this, until I could convince my ex to give me full custody (I’ll cop to some blackmail, here). By then, the “win” had worn off for him and he had moved on. Luckily, once I had full custody, things turned around for my boy and he has grown up a fine man and has his own beautiful child.

  • Mia

    One more question: What about the already single moms and dads that are Pagan or “other” in their religion? Are similar custody issues brought up against them as well because of religion or does it only really show during divorce cases?

    • Guest

      It can happen in any custody battle. New custody battles can happen years after a divorce.

      • Mia

        I mean cases where there was never a marriage to begin with.

        • Guest

          A bio-parent can start a custody battle even if they weren’t ever married

  • Brandi

    Of course, if it was Christian parents being declared unfit because of the negative effects of THEIR religion on their children, there would be a total uproar about considering religious belief as part of custody arrangements and child protection. If they really WERE discriminated against for their
    Christian religion like so many of today’s political Christians like to say that they are, discrimination on the basis of religion in custody cases would be completely and categorically illegal and enforced as such (except, of course, their tactic is to simply say that Pagan religions aren’t really religions at all and therefore shouldn’t even be protected, so they would just try to work around it that way, but that’s another matter). But wouldn’t it be interesting if someone did try to get custody by showing just how harmful their Christian ex-partner’s religious beliefs really could be? All of that hatred and negativity and a world view that’s constantly waiting for Armageddon can’t be healthy for a child’s upbringing, after all, and yet somehow they’re seen as more sane and as better parents than someone who teaches their children to question and understand more about the world around them, including the natural world as well as other cultures and other religions. Sigh.

    • Guest

      The Judge is likely to be Christian or Jewish.

    • http://PaganCenteredPodcast.com Dave of Pagan Centered Podcast

      My Christian sources informed me years ago that the situation for Christians is pretty much on-par with Pagans, they get their Religion thrown at them as if the religion itself is abuse.

      Speculation -> I just think most people are too afraid to admit they were investigated since Americans equate suspected with guilty and they probably don’t want the drama, hence lack of outrage /speculation.

      • Guest

        I don’t know about your Christian sources, but mine was a lawyer. I think what you’ve heard is inaccurate. Nobody sues Christians for custody just for owning Christian materials and books or for lighting some incense in their homes and hosting home ceremonies. They don’t even sue them for initiating or indoctrinating small children though almost no pagan tradition does that.

        Christian religions get brought up as abuse/potential abuse when it involves physical endangerment. ex. Christian parents refusing to treat their sick children or their other medical requirements because they don’t believe in doctors or if their beliefs oppose blood transfusion and their child has a blood disorder.

        • http://PaganCenteredPodcast.com Dave of Pagan Centered Podcast

          My source is an evangelical Christian minister.

          Reminder: you are the one posting anonymously.

          - Dave of PCP

          • Guest

            I know I’m “anon”. I just was surprised about the claim until you explained your source was an Evangelical minister, or maybe I missed the previous context. I think that whole topic been recently discussed in the Christian privilege post.
            Sadly, when “Privilege 101″ language and theory is used and discussed, the conversation frequently goes downhill and gets circular.

  • Kyra Nicole

    After seeing this, and all the responses about CPS= evil, I wanted to share my story, and point out that not ALL of CPS is out to get us.

    My ex husband is abusive, controlling, obsessive, bigoted… all kinds of nasty things. After a long time of wanting to leave him and being afraid, he pushed my kid over instead of me one day. I took the baby and ran. He greased some palms, lied, cheated, and used his lobbyist-uncle’s connections to make it so that the divorce happened without me even knowing about it. I still don’t know how that happened… one day everything is fine, the next I am divorced… and he has custody. I’ve been trying to fight it, but it is hard. There is supposed to be a change in circumstances, and I need a lawyer, which I can not find with my lack of money.

    One thing I should point out here, something he flat out told me- he only got custody so that I wouldn’t. He pretty much doesn’t care about Boy, he just wants me to suffer.

    About a year and a half ago I got my first CPS call. My ex had claimed that myself and my family had done a “wiccan spring solstice ceremony” where we stood around my Boy naked and urinated on him… and coached my Boy to say it, as well.

    I live in the bible belt of Arkansas, needless to say, I was terrified. Really, though, I am grateful he came up with something so utterly ridiculous, because my case worker actually looked it up, and found nothing linking urine and wicca or paganism. I should also point out, no one in my family is wiccan… I am pagan-eclectic, and that is the closest we get.

    And so my wonderful caseworker and most of CPS become well-educated in alternate religions- a first around here. My ex has called CPS on me six times now, and the police three, all proven false. CPS and the sheriffs department have both moved to prosecute him- the prosecuting attorney is the one who refuses to do anything for me. He also refused to do anything when my ex broke into my car and bragged about it on facebook- ah well. He can only ignore this for so long before CPS is able to move above him, which they are ready to do the next time they make a claim against me (which should be any day now, given the pattern). So while I may have some people against me, including a lawyer who took my money and falsely surrendered my car to my ex in addition to those mentioned- I know that I have the entire CPS office behind me. A rare and wonderful thing, once they are able to do anything about it.

    One tip… when you get a CPS call, be courteous. They have awful crap jobs, and most of them really do just want to help children, but its not easy, and you can get jaded quick in that sort of work. You may hate what they are there to investigate, but they HAVE to investigate every claim, even when you reach the point where you are on a first name bases and know their favorite cookies. Be upfront, honest, don’t get defensive- because you have nothing to be defensive about. “Yes we use candles, they are burned out of reach and supervised”. I also find that explaining a spell to be like our own way of focusing to pray, with the same function-asking a higher power for their assistance- really helps.

    Good luck to everyone, and I hope at least a few people were heartened by my positive experience.

  • Larry Cornett

    For links to guidance on how to deal with issues about Paganism in custody cases, see: http://www.erlan.org/helplink.htm#Parents. The Earth Religions Legal Assistance Network also has a collection of evidence that has been used to remove Paganism as an issue in custody cases, but because of copyright concerns, we can not put it on the web. If you need a copy, contact me at lcornett@en.com

  • Guest

    I am happy to say that my ex’s have never tried to use my paganism against me. However, someone else did make reports to CPS on me, and I am glad these calls predated my paganism because I am sure this someone would have used it against me if they could have.

    Yes, being polite with the CPS gets you farther than being rude, but I was flabberghasted to get the 1st call and find out that my accuser’s name was to be kept from me, that I was not allowed to call a lawyer, and that I had to bring my child to the CPS office that day so that he and I could be separately interrogated, while being told that I may walk out of that office without my child if the CPS did not like what they heard. I’m glad they care and investigate, but exactly what part of this process IS considered legal by any sane person?

    In call #1, I was accused of keeping my son out past midnight repeatedly and feeding him cookies for breakfast. It came out that I had taken my child out of my house at 1 a.m. ONE night to come to the emergency aid of a close friend, and had bedded my son down in the backseat of my car and never left him alone for the whole hour it took to help my friend. Would they have preferred I leave my child at home? It also came out that when my child was asked what he ate for breakfast, he named off eggs, bacon, toast, cereal, milk, juice, poptarts, and waffles – everything in fact but cookies. When asked specifically about eating cookies for breakfast, he agreed that he loved having cookies for breakfast – Cookie Crisp cereal, which (funnily enough) was what he had been served at the home of the person I was certain had made the call to CPS in the first place! Case closed, thank you Ms X, you may take your son home.

    In call #2, I was accused of beating my son about the head, neck, and shoulders. This time the CPS came to my home unannounced, accusation in hand, demanding immediate interview. When I protested, I was told that if I refused to cooperate immediately, they would return with a sheriff and take temporary custody of my child until the investigation could be completed. When they interviewed my son (this time I was allowed to be present), they asked if anyone every hit his head. My son was confused. They asked again, saying, “Does anyone ever do this–” and motioned hitting the top of their head. My son smiled and said, “Oh yeah” and proceded to demonstrate how he hit his own head as he bounced up and down – his way of pretending to be a basketball. Cased dismissed, thank you Ms X for your time, have a nice day. No, I’m sorry, we cannot release the name of your accuser for their sake – people have been known to take revenge on accusers you know. Now that 2 accusations have been proven blatantly false, how do you protect yourself from future unfounded accusations that disrupt your life so much Ms X? Well, there’s no way to do that, we have to investigate every single claim. Yes, this person could potentially call every day with a new story and we would have to investigate each one.

    I shudder to think what the accusations would have been if at the time I had been pagan.

    Contrast that with an experience of my own childhood: I was raised in the church, and not a church I would even now consider extreme fundamentalist, with the exception of the following incident. But there was an emphasis on the End Days. One night a film was showed, one that depicted what the Tribulation might be like and what a Christian might be called to face. A child my age (8) was faced with a soldier (presumably a servant of the antichrist) and told to spit on a picture of Jesus or be killed. The child, tears in his eyes, refused, and the soldier promptly cut his head off. The image of that child’s head rolling down a hill while the soldier laughed is one that has stayed with me to this day, some 35 years later. No horror movie has ever affected me as much. And no one in the church thought this film was too extreme for children.

    I do wonder what the CPS would do faced with a call that accused parents of abuse based on showing their 8 year old a film like that.

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