7 Days in Jail After Baptizing a Child Without Consent of Other Parent

On Friday, February 16th, 2018, Kendra Stocks went to Mecklenburg County Jail to begin a 7-day stint for violating a court order.  Stocks had baptized her daughter, who was shared with her ex, Paul Schaaf.  In August of 2016, a court order was granted giving Schaaf full custody, and there was a specific provision allowing Schaaf to have authority to make decisions regarding religion.  Stocks baptized the child the day after the Order was signed.  Stocks alleges that Schaaf and his family were aware of the baptism, and that it had been planned for months.

Schaaf filed a motion for contempt after seeing photos of the baptism on social media.  His complaining document outlines that he had no idea the ceremony was going to take place, and that he had not given his consent to the baptism.

In March 2017, District Court Judge Sean Smith held that Stocks violated the court order, acting in bad faith in her disregard of the order and by not allowing or notifying Schaaf to be part of the event. Judge Smith stated that Stocks had been acting erratically as part of the order, and that she had, “…an inability to cooperate.”

Judge Smith held Stocks in contempt of court and ordered the punishment to be a 10-day stay in jail. Stocks appealed that decision, but it was upheld by the Superior Court. Her sentence was cut to 7 days instead.

It is important to note that in North Carolina there are two types of contempt: criminal and civil. Civil contempt is used to enforce a court order, to stop ongoing conduct.  For example, if a party is regularly dropping off a child late or failing to provide medical records, the opposing party may want to file for civil contempt.  Criminal contempt is a punishment of a set term or fine for conduct that has already occurred.  As in this case, there was no ongoing conduct to stop and Schaaf was asking the court to punish Stocks for violating the court order.

In this case, Judge Smith held Stocks in criminal contempt based on the prior conduct of baptizing the daughter she shared with Schaaf.  Schaaf’s attorney, Jonathan Feit, addressed concerns about this ruling, stating, “For our system to work, there ought to be consequences for willfully and intentionally violating a court order.”

While many people may rightfully wonder if this is an issue concerning religious expression and the freedom to raise your child according to your faith, Judge Smith’s holding of Stocks in contempt was based on Stocks’ disregard of that Order.  Stocks did not challenge the validity of the underlying order itself.

Stocks says that she regrets Schaaf was not present at the baptism, but that she is happy that their daughter has been baptized in the Catholic faith. While awaiting entry into the jail, Stocks stated that she was unsure why this was going on, and Stocks was concerned that being sent to jail was not in the best interest of her child or for the family as a whole. Stocks stated just before entering jail, “I’ll get through this and hopefully come out a better person.”

Not agreeing with a court order is not a reason to disregard it.  Be aware there can be serious consequences for not following a court order, including jail time and fines.  A party can also seek attorney’s fees associated with violating a court order.

If you are accused of violating an order, but you do not have the ability to comply with the order, you may have a defense to the violation, as contempt requires that you are willfully disregarding an order that you have the ability to comply with (the most common example is you lost a job and cannot pay child support).

If you believe that someone has violated your child custody or child support order, give us a call for help.  We can help guide you through the process, attempt to resolve the issue, and if necessary fight for your position in court.