Appeal Won’t Restore Child Custody to Iranian

     (CN) – A man who lost custody of his son was not prejudiced by the admission of testimony that he is an Islamic fanatic and expressed anti-American sentiments, an Alabama appeals court ruled.
     Mohammad Heyat married Anahita Rahnemaei in Iran in 1995. Heyat was a student in America at the time. For the first two years of the marriage, he lived in Birmingham, Ala., while she stayed with her family in Iran awaiting a visa.
     Heyat worked as a home builder while his wife had two children and got her bachelor’s degree in nuclear-medicine technology. On two occasions, the family moved into a house that Heyat built when it failed to sell.
     Rahnemaei complained that Heyat’s increasing inability to provide for his family coincided with an ever-growing enthusiasm for Islam. Heyat allegedly attended mosque sometimes more than once per day.
     Rahnemaei and her daughter also testified that Heyat celebrated the terrorist attacks on America on Sept. 11, 2001. Heyat was also allegedly prone to remarking “God is good” when he heard on the news that an American soldier had died overseas.
     This rhetoric led the couple’s second child, a son, to chant “death to America” around the house, the daughter testified. Rahnemaei allegedly worried about the mosque’s influence on her son, testifying that “there is nothing you can do in the mosque, just sit there and be taught things I don’t want him to learn. Things that are part of how to become a terrorist.”
     Rahnemaei filed for divorce after an incident in July 2010. At this time, her daughter was 21 and her son was 13. By her account, Heyat became irate at dinner, called the daughter a “whore” in Farsi and threatened to take Rahnemaei to the back yard and cut off her head.
     Heyat denied most of these allegations and said it was not in his nature to cut off his wife’s head. He also insists that he grieved the Sept. 11 attacks and loves America, although he opposed “the war.”
     A Shelby County court ultimately awarded Rahnemaei custody of the son. Heyat appealed, arguing that the court improperly admitted testimony that cast him as a religious fanatic and a terrorist.
     The Alabama Court of Civil Appeals rejected the claims this past spring, noting in a footnote that there is nothing in the record alleging that Heyat is a “terrorist.”
     “We are disappointed by the use of such hyperbole and inflammatory statements in the husband’s brief,” the five-judge panel said.
     As to the testimony about alleged anti-American sentiment, Heyat waived his right to appeal this material by not objecting to the testimony at trial, the judges found.
     Rahnemaei deserves custody of the son despite the boy’s desire to live with his father, according to the unsigned ruling.
     “Although the stated preference of a child regarding custody is to be considered by a trial court, the child’s desires are not controlling,” the judges wrote.
     “As the wife points out, she presented evidence indicating that the husband had expressed desire to return to Iran to live and that he desired to take his son with him,” they added. “This evidence could have convinced the trial court that awarding the wife sole physical custody would be in the son’s best interest. We cannot conclude that the trial court erred by awarding the wife sole physical custody of the son.”
     Heyat did obtain slight relief from the appeals court, which decided that the trial judge improperly calculated child support for Rahnemaei based on Heyat’s supposed $5,000-a-month income. The appellate panel found no evidence that Heyat can earn this much and ordered the trial court must to recalculate with more realistic figures.
     Rahnemaei meanwhile persuaded the appellate court to rethink an order that had been unrealistic for her.
     Though the trial court awarded Rahnemaei half of her ex’s interest in apartments he owned in Iran, Rahnemaei argued that Heyat no longer owns the Iranian apartments and that she would be unable, as a woman, to enforce any property right in Iran.
     The appellate panel found that the trial court should instead adjust its award so that Rahnemaei can receive the value her portion of the marital estate.

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