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Minnesota child custody dispute over alleged religious bias

A Minnesota family law matter made national news because of the opinion made by the judge in the case. The couple was engaged in an otherwise ordinary child custody dispute in Stearns County if not for certain statements made by the judge.

During a hearing, the mother of the child made reference as to wishing to distance her children from the supposed religious beliefs of her husband that a wife must submit to what her husband says. The judge then remarked that she recalled disapproving of a similar statement where it was suggested that the wife must obey the husband. After the wife was then awarded primary custody of the three children, the husband then appealed the matter on a number of grounds - including the remarks made by the judge.

Though the court of appeals upheld the judge's decision, one judge wrote a lengthy dissenting opinion concerning this matter. This judge felt it troubling that the judge's own opinion concerning the religious sentiment seemed so intertwined with her decision to award custody to the mother of the children. "We cannot overlook revealed judicial bias simply because it reflects a popular view," the dissenting decision was quoted as saying.

One family law attorney suggested that the husband weakened his case by not objecting to the judge's statement when it originally was presented. This may or may not be the case, but it does demonstrate how misunderstandings can arise because of simple off-hand remarks made at court.

Ultimately what must be demonstrated in any family law issue involving children is what will be in the best interest of the children. Parents sometimes disagree in very important respects on issues such as medical care, education or the religion in which the child should be raised, but the parent that can best demonstrate that they are in the best position to raise the child in a beneficial manner will generally be awarded primary custody. It appears in the above circumstance that the attorney for the mother was able to demonstrate this at trial and at the appellate level.

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

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