Can the religious or political views one expresses in his own home later have an impact on whether he is successful in seeking custody of his child?
Our Birmingham child custody lawyers say the answer, as handed down by the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals, is that it is certainly possible.
Part of it came down to technical issues of law that might have been subverted had the individual in this case had a better attorney.
The case was brought by two divorced individuals who were born in Iran and married there in 1985. The husband then moved to the U.S. in 1985 and lived in Birmingham for two years while his wife awaited a visa.
The couple then had two children, a daughter and a son.
The husband worked as a home builder, while the wife earned a degree in nuclear-medicine technology.
As time wore on, the wife said her husband's political and religious views became increasingly more extreme. This began to coincide, she claims, with the husband's increasing inability and/or unwillingness to provide for the family.
For example, she stated in court documents,the family was forced to move into one of the husband's "spec" homes because he wasn't taking the initiative to sell it. He also was not making efforts to obtain other forms of work.
Instead, she says, he attended mosque more than once daily. She stated that while both were Muslim, her husband's religious beliefs began to become more fervent.
Over time, he also began expressing a anti-American sentiments, which his wife and daughter found frightening. For example, immediately following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the husband celebrated. Any time he heard of the death of an American soldier on the news, he reportedly responded in Farsi, his native language, "God is Good."
The wife and daughter testified in court that the son, in imitating his father, began to chant "Death to America" around the house. The father began taking his son with him several times a week to the mosque.
He began talking more and more about his dislike for America, said that he wanted to move back to Iran and made statements indicating his desire to volunteer for the Afghan or North Korean armies so that he could fight against America.
Now, none of these are particularly popular views. But bear in mind, it's not illegal to have strong opinions against the government or a strong connection to one's faith.
What may have ultimately had greater weight in the case were words exchanged between the pair in the summer of 2010. The husband became upset about his mother-in-law living in the house. He threatened to burn the house down. The wife testified that she scolded him for being disrespectful to her mother and he allegedly responded by calling their daughter a slut and saying he would take his wife in the back yard and cut off her head.
The husband doesn't deny saying this, but insists he was upset because his wife had told him she wanted a divorce and that he never had any intention of doing this.
The son sided with the father in all of this. He was 13 years-old at the time of the custody decision, and asserted he wanted to live with his father.
Ultimately, the trial court ruled in favor of the mother, awarding her full custody of the son. (The daughter by that point was 21 years-old.) While the court took into account the son's wishes, they said it was not a controlling factor and that the decision that he be placed with his mother was in his best interests.
The husband appealed this decision, saying that the court improperly allowed testimony that painted him as a terrorist and a fanatic. The appellate court disagreed. While the justices said they were "disappointed by the use of such hyperbole and inflammatory statements" by the husband, at no point did anyone call him a terrorist.
More to the point, though, was that the husband and his attorney had reportedly failed to object to this line of testimony during the initial case. That resulted in the husband waiving his right to appeal on this matter.
The husband tried to argue that the son's preference should have been given more weight. However, the court pointed to the husband's verbally expressed desire to return to Iran and take his son with him, where his mother may have little or no rights to contact him. This, they found, would not be in the child's best interest.
The bottom line is that holding views that are unpopular with the mainstream shouldn't affect a child custody case. However, it's not out of the realm of possibilities that they sometimes would. Individuals facing this situation should be hyper-vigilant in securing a solid family law attorney.
If you are seeking advice on child custody in Birmingham, contact Birmingham Family Law Attorney Steven Eversole at (866) 831-5292.
Appeal Won't Restore Child Custody to Iranian, July 23, 2013, By Jeff D. Gorman, Courthouse News Service