An Ohio mother of four has launched a constitutional appeal against an Ohio civil divorce and custody decision, arguing her religious beliefs and free speech were used against her in the proceedings.
Marie “Bai” Macfarlane’s husband abandoned her and their four children in 2003 and began no-fault divorce proceedings. Macfarlane is a stay-at-home mother and devout Catholic who homeschooled her children until 2004.
Her potentially precedent-setting appeal was submitted by Ave Maria School of Law professor Stephen Safranek. The Constitutional Law professor argues: “The civil courts do not have sole authority to end her marriage or to control the upbringing of her children. These religious and moral beliefs may be considered alien or quaint in our culture. Yet, the holding fast to such beliefs should not result in discrimination against a mother.”
Macfarlane said she and her husband had agreed to marry for life. “Even if disputes arose, I expected that we would resolve them as Catholics, from the Church’s moral position,” she said.
However, the civil divorce court refused to allow a third party arbitrator, the ecclesiastic authority of the Catholic Church, to determine separation procedures, financial settlements and custody of the children, despite legal precedents set in cases of Jewish or Islamic marriages.
Further, the appeal argues the Guardian for the children in the case was hostile to Macfarlane’s religious views and did not act properly in defending the interests of the children.
The Guardian removed them from their mother’s care although the court psychologist report states the children, “do want more time with their mom” and the older boys “were adamant supporters of homeschooling.”
The court gave the father, who works full time, permanent custody and their stay-at-home mom visitation.
“I was forced to stop homeschooling my three older children. My youngest child is in daycare although I am willing to stay home and care for my children,” said MacFarlane. “I have no right to make any decision regarding their upbringing. Finally, although we as a family poured our lives and savings into a non-profit foundation, my husband runs it and I have been ordered to get another job.”