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Religion and Child Custody

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The Orlando Sentinel is reporting what appears to be a sad case of religious conflict within a family ending with one of the worst possible outcomes. A 17-year-old girl, who, along with her parents, is a native of Sri Lanka, has fled her home in Ohio, and ended up in Florida. She claimed that her father threatened to kill her because she converted from Islam to Christianity.  She is now in a Florida court, which is trying to decide whether or not to return her to her family.

stop child abuseThis case raises quite a few interesting legal issues, not the least of which being whether a Florida court even has the jurisdiction to rule on the parental rights of a family in Ohio.

However, it also raises other legal and practical issues: there does not appear to be much evidence supporting this girl’s claims. On the other hand, the allegations are extremely serious. What weight should be given to such allegations? In cases such as this, should there be some sort of sliding scale that decreases the standard of proof as the severity of the harm alleged increases? This may make logical sense, but raises many practical issues, as well.

This girl is 17 years old, meaning she will be 18 in less than a year, at which point she’ll be legally able to sever any relationship she has with her parents. Whatever the merits of her allegations (again, there does not appear to be any concrete evidence supporting them at this point), it is clear that her relationship with her parents is less than perfect. Would anybody’s interests be served if she were forced to return to her family, when she could legally move out in a matter of months? Given what we currently know about the facts of this case (not much, at this point), it seems that, whatever her reasons, she will probably choose to leave her family when she is legally free to do so.

On the other hand, if her testimony lacks any credibility, and she cannot articulate any other reasons that a court should terminate her parents’ custody over her, a court might reasonably conclude that this is simply a case of teenage angst taken to extremes.

If this girl is telling the truth, the sad fact is that her story would not be a new one, though the particular facts are unique. According to LegalMatch case data, the majority of recent cases with issues of child abuse involved alleged abuse by a parent or stepparent. While we don’t know if this girl’s allegations are true, if they do turn out to be true, it wouldn’t be the first nor the last time, unfortunately.


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