November 3, 1980


Bertha R. S. Houser, for appellant.

Voris, Belcher, Swanson & Lackey and Chester T. Lackey, for respondent.

Callow, C.j. Ringold, J., concurs. Dore, J., dissents by separate opinion.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Callow

Divorce and Dissolution -- Custody of Children -- Statutory Factors -- Consideration -- Review. When reviewing a child custody award, an appellate court will assume that the trial court ascertained the best interests of the child by applying the factors specified in RCW 26.09.190.

Constitutional Law -- Freedom of Religion -- Restriction -- Validity. The freedom to act in accordance with a religious belief may not be restricted by state action unless a paramount societal interest is endangered by the act. The freedom to hold a religious belief is not subject to any state restrictions.

Divorce and Dissolution -- Custody of Children -- Religion of Parent -- Consideration -- Scope. In awarding custody of a child in a dissolution action, a trial court may consider a parent's decisions and acts which are based upon a religious belief only to the extent that they present a reasonable and substantial likelihood of immediate or future impairment of the child's mental health or physical safety.

Nature of Action: In a dissolution action, both parents sought custody of their five daughters. The mother was a member of a fundamentalist church which required strict discipline of children.

Superior Court: The Superior Court for Whatcom County, No. 56306, Byron L. Swedberg, J., on August 2, 1979, gave the mother custody of the oldest child and the father custody of the four other children and awarded the house to the father subject to a lien for the mother's community interest.

Judith N. Hadeen, petitioner below in a suit for the dissolution of her marriage to Glen I. Hadeen, appeals from the trial court's award of custody of four of the Hadeens' five daughters to Mr. Hadeen. The trial court awarded Mr. Hadeen custody of Lisa, age 15, Lynn, age 13, Lila, age 11, and LaVon, age 8. Mrs.Hadeen was awarded custody of the Hadeens' oldest daughter, Lori,age 17. This appeal presents the issues of whether religious acts may constitute a determinative factor in an award of custody, and, if so, what test must be used to protect the interests of children and the religious freedom of parents.

In the fall of 1977, a person who had previously been the Hadeens' minister returned from Canada and activated a Bellingham branch of the First Community Churches of America. The First Community Church is a fundamentalist Christian sect which demands much of its members' time, their total loyalty, and a subservience to the teachings of the church. The church teaches a strict code of discipline as a means of gaining parental control of children. Mrs. Hadeen admitted that on one occasion she had her other children hold her daughter Lisa while she spanked her with a ping-pong paddle for 2 hours. Mrs. Hadeen testified that usually only a few spankings were necessary. It is unclear whether Mr. Hadeen sanctioned Mrs. Hadeen's disciplinary practices. Witnesses testified that the church teaches enforced isolation and fasting as another means of discipline. The church also teaches that there are essentially two classes of people: "natural people" and "spirit filled people" who have repented, been baptized and received the Holy Spirit. There was testimony that children were taught to use foul language when speaking to other children who were "natural people," and that there was nothing wrong with lying to "natural people."

Mrs. Hadeen denied that church members were taught not to associate with "natural" people. A few months before the separation of the parties in 1978, there was a split in the church. Mr. Hadeen went with the group that left the church while Mrs. Hadeen stayed. There is little testimony as to what precipitated this split. According to Mr. Hadeen, in February of 1978 the pastor of the church unsuccessfully attempted to get Mr. Hadeen to sell the family home and give the proceeds to the ministry. Mr. Hadeen testified that his relationship with his wife deteriorated rapidly as a result of an incident occurring on Memorial Day of 1978. At that time, he and his wife had decided to paint the couple's house, but the pastor came over and said that they should not paint the house and that they were to go to a meeting in Seattle. Mr. Hadeen refused to go, but his wife argued that they should obey the pastor.

Mrs. Hadeen testified that she would allow Mr. Hadeen visitation if she were given custody of the children. She testified that she did not want custody of Lisa at that time unless "she is ready to live right and walk right with the Lord." Although their pastor had moved to Portland, there was a First Community Church in Seattle that Mrs. Hadeen would attend.

Mr. Hadeen testified that the church exercised control over its members to whatever extent possible. He said that he never treated his children violently, but had slapped and kicked Mrs. Hadeen in the children's presence following their separation. He did so, he testified, because on one occasion she would not talk to him and on another she cursed him and began "speaking in tongues."

Mrs. Hadeen's sister-in-law testified that the parties' religion had not had bad effects on the children and that their conduct was exemplary. Others testified similarly. Mr. Hadeen's sister-in-law testified that the church taught parents to spank their children until they stopped screaming. She further testified that ex-members were shunned. Another church member testified that ex-members were ostracized, and that some parents beat their children while others did not. According to this witness, the church came before family for Mrs. Hadeen.

The trial court interviewed three of the Hadeens' daughters in chambers. Lori testified that her grades are excellent and that she is active in basketball. She testified that the church did not force her or others to do anything. She said she did not visit her father because of the way he had treated her mother and tried to buy the children's affection. Lisa testified that her mother would not talk to her because she would not go to church. She left her mother because she beat her to force her to go to church. Lynn testified that she was in the seventh grade, played sports, had high grades, and did not like her father because he tried to bribe her.

When the taking of testimony was complete, the trial court appointed a psychiatrist as an independent expert to evaluate (a) the children's interrelationship; (b) the parents' and children's interrelationship; (c) whether the children had personality problems; and (d) the problems, effects and desirability of split custody.

Two and one-half months after the first hearing, another hearing was held. Mrs. Hadeen testified that she and the children had moved to Seattle where the children enrolled in school and she became employed. She testified that the move was made so she could get a job. According to her testimony, Lynn refused to visit her father, but she told her to visit him. As to Lisa, Mrs. Hadeen testified that she just wanted Lisa to abide by the rules by telling her where she is going and by being home at night. Mrs. Hadeen testified that she would not force the church on Lisa and would accept her back. Both parties agreed that there were and had been major disciplinary problems with Lisa, and that she was having emotional difficulties, was doing poorly in school, and was involved with alcohol and drugs. Mr. Hadeen testified that Mrs. Hadeen would not see Lisa, according to Lisa, until she got her bad spirits out. Mrs. Hadeen testified in rebuttal that she had never said anything to Lisa about bad spirits and that she wanted Lisa to visit her.

The trial court stated in its oral opinion: The tenets of the church are not something the Court wants to spend a great deal of time with, primarily because religion, religious issues and conditions, I think, are those that fall peculiarly within the conscience and conviction of people who follow the dictates of their own beliefs and conscience. The Court is not concerned particularly with the tenets of this church, other than as it may affect the children. And in that regard, it does appear to be a denomination that requires complete submission and fidelity to the exclusion of other reasonable relationships that usually exist.

A review of the record conclusively shows there is substantial evidence upon which the trial court based the above finding of fact. In the record we find continuous and numerous outrageous incidents perpetuated by the petitioner mother upon her children over a long period of time. Some of these are:

1. She believes that "children overriding parents is witchcraft." In order to avoid and negate the witchcraft, Mrs. Hadeen admitted that she sent the children to the bedroom to fast. She stated that she did this with her children in order to make them obedient and they did not rebel as a result of it. However, she did state they do not rebell [ sic ] but Lisa did rebell [ sic ] and this rebellion, which is witchcraft, it really is witchcraft, what it does, it comes against, I have seen it even cause sickness in homes if a child is rebelling or, say, one person in the home is rebelling. It can just cause, you know, cause all sorts of things to enter in that you don't want there. What we want is to keep the peace of God in our homes and to keep the children obeying us and being in submission to us.

2. Mrs. Hadeen admitted that the church teaches that you are to "spank until the will is broken -- spank through the loud bellering, until they cry softly." She described paddling her daughter Lisa for 2 hours in the following language:

[Q] Okay. Do you recall an incident with Lisa, now I think you just referred to it possibly as a spanking?

[A] Uh-huh.

[Q] Did that spanking consist of having the girls hold her down and beat her with a rod for two hours?

[A] Yes, yes, I sure did, because that kid, she would not let me do it, she would fight it and so I had the girls hold her and I spanked her to where she felt it. You bet I did.

This was a beating of Lisa by the mother, not a spanking, and is an example of an outrageous child abuse.

Inez Hadeen, Glen's sister-in-law, testified that she was formerly a member of the First Community Church of Bellingham. They were taught by the church: There's nothing wrong to lying to somebody because they aren't going to believe the truth anyway. This is the word from Bob Taylor's mouth. He said you're, they will not believe the truth anyway so, therefore, lie to them.

[Q] Okay. How about specifically like to school authorities?

[A] To school authorities, to somebody you work for, teachers, people that you come in contact with every day.

[Q] This is taught to the children?

[A] Yes, it is, and they're also taught to use the foulest language they want to to other children in the school because that is fine because that's the only language that other children understand.

[Q] By foul language, what do you mean?

[A] I mean the rotten four-letter words that most people object to. I heard it with my own ears and my children have done it too and now my husband and I are in the process of teaching our children different, trying to bring them up with a normal attitude toward life.

[Q] Okay. Now, Inez, on the other forms of disciplining, the rod and beating the children until they stopped screaming, --

[A] Uh-huh.

[Q] -- was that taught to you, was that --

[A] Definitely, definitely, we were told to use a rod or a paddle to discipline the children with and to spank them until they quit the loud screaming and quit and spank them until they cried softly.

Judith Hadeen admits that it is the teaching of the church that another means of disciplining is to send the children to their rooms with no food or anything until repentance. It was the testimony of Lynn Hadeen that she practiced this method of discipline, and on one occasion Lori was forced to fast for a period of 2 days.

Consistent with the church philosophy, Judith Hadeen has rejected those who are "natural people" (people that are outside the church) and not filled with the spirit. Those include her parents, her daughter, her husband, her husband's parents, and other relatives of her husband. She presently does not speak to her parents, her husband's parents, or her daughter Lisa who has left the church.

In chambers, in discussion with the trial judge, Lisa stated:

She says she will talk to me when I repent and come back to the church. That is the last thing that she said to me and then she hung up on me.

Dr. Watson was appointed by the court as an independent expert psychiatrist, to determine the relationship of the children with their mother and father, and to secure his recommendation as to custody. In Dr. Watson's report to the court, he made the following statement:

Mrs. Hadeen provides the children with an adequate parenting situation with the knowledge of the severe limitations brought on by her involvement with the authoritarian ultra fundamentalistic Christian group that she is affiliated with, and how this involvement will ultimately result in the children being more and more isolated from familial and community involvement, as they become older and deeply affiliated with this religious group.

It is clear that Dr. Watson viewed the mother's involvement in the church with the limitation of ability to parent and recognized that problems were caused to the children by her association with the First Community Churches of America.

Dr. Watson reported that to award the custody of the children to petitioner would effectively cut off Glen Hadeen from his involvement with the children. There was testimony in the record that Glen Hadeen was a caring father, with the financial capacity and family support to care for the children, and the court had substantial evidence to support the finding that the children's best interests were served by placing them in the custody of the father.

The trial court, in its decision, took into account the many bizarre actions of the mother toward her children in making its decision on the award of custody of the minor children to the father. However, Judith's religion itself was carefully avoided by the trial court, as illustrated by the following language in its oral opinion.

The testimony in the record, and the court's oral opinion and its findings of fact, lead unmistakably to the conclusion that the court found that the church membership of the mother posed a threat to the mental and physical welfare of the children, and it is unnecessary to remand the case back to the trial court for entry of a finding that has already been established. In addition, such a finding in the subject case is not even necessary.

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