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Son's baptism violates child custody agreement

Child custody arrangements in Maryland may go further than merely determining a parent's visitation rights or who will have primary custody over the couple's children. They can also control future parenting decisions about how to raise the children.

For example, a woman recently decided, without consulting her ex-husband, to allow their 12-year-old son to get baptized in a Baptist church. According to the parenting plan in their joint custody agreement, the parents were supposed to cooperate in making decisions about their son's religious upbringing.

Violation of the agreement actually resulted in the woman spending a night in jail for contempt of court.

The mother's position, as offered by her attorney, was that her son was old enough to make his own decisions regarding faith and religion. The court, looking to the parenting agreement, said that was beside the point.

"It's not a case about baptism, or its desirability. It's not about the boy's desires," said Knox County Circuit Court Judge Bill Swann. "It's a case about what contract the parents made and had they lived up to the contract."

The court determined that the mother had not met the conditions of the contract she had entered into with her ex-husband.

While the father and mother both attended the baptism, the father argued that under the agreement, he should have had the opportunity to first discuss the baptism with his son and the mother - if necessary, in the presence of a mediator.

Parenting agreements can cover a variety of issues important to raising a child. If well-thought out and adhered to, they can help provide some uniformity to a child's upbringing by establishing consistent expectations and rules to live under regardless of which parent they are with at the time. By enhancing stability in such a manner, a parenting agreement has the potential to benefit the child while at the same time protecting both parents' interests.

Source: The Tennessean, "Knoxville woman charged after having son baptized," May 3, 2012

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