In a novel twist, a mother in North Carolina was jailed after having the divorced couple’s daughter baptized without the father’s knowledge or agreement. What makes this situation so unique is not only that the mother was sentenced and jailed, but also that while the parents actually agreed in principle that they wanted their daughter to be baptized, and to be raised Catholic, the court had granted full legal custody of the child to the father.
Let us repeat that – the father had full legal custody. Legal custody – which is different than physical custody (i.e. where the child actually lives) – is the right to make the decisions which determine where your child goes to school, in what religion (if any) they will be raised, etc..
Partial legal custody is often given to a single father as something of a panacea – a bone tossed to dad to let him feel like he actually has some say in his children’s lives. It is often not enforced, and it is rare that legal custody is granted to solely one parent, let alone the father.
However in the case of Kendra Stocks and Paul Schaff, according to WATE, “The court granted Schaff the final decision-making authority involving all legal custody decisions, including those involving religion.”
Various reports suggest that the decision to grant just one parent legal custody was owing, at least in part, to the fact that the divorce had been contentious and drawn out, and the parents could not agree on certain things.
Said the mother, as she checked in at the jail to start serving her one-week sentence, “Her father and I both agreed on baptizing her. I regret that he wasn’t part of it, but I don’t regret we’re raising her in the Catholic faith, which is what we both wanted.”
Baptizing their daughter was what both parents wanted, however by all accounts it was much more important to the father, who attends Mass every week, and of course wanted to be there. Yet, just a day after the judge cautioned both parents to follow the court’s order or risk going to jail, the mother had the daughter baptized behind the father’s back. In fact, he found out on Facebook that his daughter had been baptized without him.
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According to the court, “the mother has acted selfishly by depriving the father of the ability to be present at an event that was extraordinarily important to him.”
Said Stocks, of her sentence, “I’ll get through it and hopefully come out a better person.”