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We at the Witches' Voice are continually compiling a important reference documents, form letters that you can use in your local fight for YOUR freedom... Note: The Witches' Voice Inc. does not offer legal advice nor are we qualified to do so. This document does not constitute legal advice but is intended to be used in conjunction with the legal services of an attorney licensed to practice in your state. This document can be copied and distributed to your lawyer should you decide that you need the services of one.
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Some Moral Support From another one Who Has been There|
Brief history - I live in a town of about 130,000 in the Midwest. I've been a Pagan all my life, and my ex-husband knew that before we even started dating. He was raised Baptist, but he doesn't go to church.
Religion was never a problem, until it became a handy way to prove I was an unfit mother. My coven has been very active for about eight years. We've worked very hard to educate the public in our region, and let them know we are just like them, with kids, jobs, houses, bills, etc. As a result, we are very public about our lifestyles and our religious practices. We have a church charter, a ministerial board, a store/community center, a newsletter, and a television program on cable access.
My divorce took three years. There were depositions, accusations, anger and spite. I was the petitioner, and he was the respondent. My case consisted of infidelity and abuse on his part, and his case consisted of my being an unfit mother because of my religious practices leading to an immoral lifestyle and being a danger to the health and welfare of our children, ages 7 and 5. His attorney supeonaed me for a deposition months before the trial, and in the deposition, she attempted to prove that by having an altar set up in my living room, I was exposing my children to dangerous knives and open flame (athame and candles). There was also an attempt to prove that Pagans maintained open relationships throughout their marriages. Oddly enough, he was the one who continued to have a girlfriend on the side.
The subject of attending festivals was brought up. I attend Heartland every year, usually with my father, and visit with a lot of old friends I've known since I was a child. My ex-husband's attorney tried to make it sound as if I went up there every year to have sex with nameless strangers and participate in many naked rites.
Well, OK, so maybe the naked part is true, but is there anything illegal or immoral about that? I haven't taken either one of my children since my oldest was four months old. I don't think he remembers it. I don't bring them now because I know their father would have a cow, and the one time I did bring my oldest, he got sunburned. Yes, that was what they brought up in the deposition. A sunburn at a festival.
The only other thing they could think of in which either child was hurt was when my youngest tripped over a candle and got some hot wax on his foot. Again, he doesn't even remember it, and there aren't any scars.
They also supeonaed the man I was dating at the time to take his deposition. I think they were attempting to prove that I had known him before I left my husband, and that I had an open relationship with this man. Alas, it was but a waste of time and money on their part. Oh, yes, he was also Pagan.
February 17, 1998: Trial Day.
My attorney had me absolutely terrified. She wasn't very understanding about my religion, and she had me convinced that one misstep on my part would lose my children for life. For the trial, his
attorney supeonaed a former friend and roommate of mine, and the program director for the local cable company. My former friend was supposed to admit that, yes, I was a flaky slut (I wasn't), and the program director was supposed to admit that our television program was weird and twisted (it's not).
The judge then ordered a viewing of an episode of our TV program. The whole purpose of our show is to show people who we are, what we do, and that we aren't going to hurt anybody. I believe we got that point across.
During the course of the trial, they repeatedly attempted to prove that what we do in ritual is dangerous to the children. It took a lot of wind out of their sails when I told them children are NOT forced to participate, and more often than not, they don't participate because they choose not to.
The judge did take the following items into consideration:
Most of this is pretty much common sense stuff that anyone can tell you when you're going through a divorce, but for a single Pagan mom, it's doubly important. Many times, Pagan women are portrayed as emasculating feminists or flaky fluff-heads. At first glance, neither one is a good choice for raising two young boys. But I have busted my butt to let the courts know I'm not an unfit mother. If the religion had been left out of this entirely, there would have been no reason for a trial, but the Wiccan aspect makes everyone look at it a little harder. Attorneys and judges start reading hidden messages into everything you do, from lighting a candle to singing a song.
- I no longer have a full altar sitting in my living room. I have a small, unobtrusive altar on top of my bookcase, and my athame is now in my portable Witch's kit.
- The children and I both go to the Unitarian Universalist Church here in town. Their father doesn't give them any sort of religious education whatsoever. Our UU Church is very Pagan-friendly, and the children love going there. I also found a lot of support there.
- Most of my friends are monogamous couples that I've known for five years or more.
- I've gone to great lengths to prove that I'm not a flake by maintaining a job and an address for more than a year. This can be difficult when you're trying to get back on your feet and find yourself in a bad neighborhood with your children. Also, staying current on your bills is a good idea.
- Most important, the children's attitudes. When we split up, my kids had violent tempers, and they had witnessed their father throwing things across the house and breaking their toys when he got angry and frustrated. It took a great deal of patience and time to break that pattern, but now I have sweet, wonderful, well-behaved boys, and I have a lot more hope for their future. I've made sure they know how much I love them. We've also learned to meditate together.
The important thing to remember is the battle can be won. It was a struggle from the beginning, and it's still not over - he's filed an appeal to turn over custody to him - but it's worth every second.
Sometimes I feel like I'm breaking new ground, and it gets a little overwhelming, but I know there have been others before me who did have their children taken away from them. If I can keep moving forward, then maybe I can keep someone else from having to go through this.
Kate Barton (Arian) firstname.lastname@example.org-
Do YOU Have A Support Story That You Would Be Willing To Share?
We would be interested in printing your story. Anyone who has been-or still is-in the middle of divorce/child custody hearings which are impacted by their Pagan religion knows how lonely and frustrating this process can be. There are few who understand this better than those who have been there themselves.
All of the cases that TWV have handled are held strictly confidential. No one will hear about it from us. But others need to hear it from you.
Information, educational resources, lawyer reactions, legal tactics and coping mechanisms that you found useful can all be extremely helpful to someone else. Just knowing that they are not alone can be a lifeline and a source of strength.
So send us your story. Please be careful with identifying information about the other parties. We can only published those stories where you are willing to be contacted by others by email. (Hint: You may want to consider getting another email account-many free ones are available-just for this. )We don't want to start another round of litigation. Tell us how your pagan religion impacted your case, what you did about it, how it was handled, what the final outcome was and how you have managed to hang in there.
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