16 Jun 2012

Memphis Mom Held in Contempt for Baptism of Children Over Dad’s Objection

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Tennessee law case summary on contempt for parenting plan violation in Tennessee divorce and family law from the Tennessee Court of Appeals.

Lauren Ephgrave Jarrell v Emmett Blake Jarrell – Contempt

Emmett Blake Jarrell, father, contested that, although a legal agreement in place required that all major decisions regarding religious upbringing be made jointly that Lauren Ephgrave Jarrell, mother, had the children baptized without his knowledge. The father then filed a petition for civil and criminal contempt against the mother. The initial trial court found the mother in civil contempt but dismissed the criminal contempt position for insufficient notice. It then came before an appeals court for further consideration.

In the case, the children were born during a marriage between the two parties in April 2005 and April 2007. The mother filed for divorce in November 2009. There was no specified length of marriage. The Marital Dissolution Agreement and Permanent Parenting Plan outlined that the major decisions on religious upbringing occur jointly and, if a dispute occurred, that a mediator would be necessary to come to an agreement.

The two belonged to the Christ United Methodist Church during the marriage and sought counseling from a minister to determine when the baptizing of the children should occur. The mother wanted them to receive baptism early and the father later. No agreement occurred prior to the divorce. After the divorce, the mother attended Independent Presbyterian Church where infant baptism is a requirement and, as such, in October 2010, the mother had the children baptized.

In the initial hearing, the court said that the mother willfully and with spite violated the Parenting Plan and as such awarded the father $10,000 in attorney fees and required the mother to attend parenting classes.

In the appeal, the mother claimed the trial court lacked the authority to hold the mother in civil contempt without a showing by the father that the baptisms substantially harmed the children. She stated that the court was taking the father’s beliefs about infant baptism over the mother’s decision. The appeals court noted that the court must maintain strict neutrality in the case but as the lower court only ruled on whether the mother violated the Parenting Plan, the appeals court found that the mother’s argument is without merit.

Though the appeals court noted that the mother violated these requirements, it said that the lower court punished the mother rather than took steps to compel her into compliance because civil contempt can only occur when the individual has the ability to comply with the order at the time of the contempt hearing.

The ruling from the appeals court found the mother was not in civil contempt, awarded attorney’s fees to the father, and reversed the dismissal of the criminal contempt petition. It remanded it for further criminal contempt proceedings to the trial court.

Court of Appeals of Tennessee at Jackson, Direct Appeal from the Circuit Court for Shelby County, No. CT-005545-09, Gina C. Higgins, Judge.

Disclaimer: See original opinion for exact language. Legal citations omitted.

Memphis divorce lawyer, Miles Mason, Sr., JD, CPA practices family law exclusively and is founder of the Miles Mason Family Law Group, PLC, which handles Tennessee family law matters including divorce, child support, alimony, prenuptial agreements, child custody, parental relocation, child support modification, and alimony modification.

Miles Mason

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Memphis divorce and family lawyer, Miles Mason, Sr. is the founder of Miles Mason Family Law Group, PLC. For more information about our professional staff, see our Meet the Team page.

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