(CN) — A Florida father must be restricted from expressing his religious beliefs to his children because his views are emotionally damaging to them, a state appeals court ruled.
The trial court granted the divorce of Michael and Emily Koch, and the Tallahassee-based First District Florida Court of Appeals affirmed that decision Sept. 28.
However, the appeals court also addressed a provision of the final judgment on the parenting plan and timesharing that prohibited Michael from discussing "ANY religious matters during visitation with his children." (Emphasis in original.)
Writing for the court's three-judge panel, Judge Ross L. Bilbrey stated that while a court usually cannot restrict a parent from discussing religious beliefs, "religiously motivated behavior with an impact on a child's welfare cannot be ignored."
Emily left Michael in 2013 after one of the children suffered a psychotic episode and was hospitalized. A domestic violence injunction was entered against Michael.
"Three professionals consistently testified that [Michael's] admonishments, threats of damnation and demonization of the children's mother caused each of the three children anxiety and emotional distress severe enough to qualify as abuse," Bilbrey noted.
Court-appointed social investigator Linda Abeles testified that Michael had admitted that he was abusive to Emily and the children and called himself "a monster," but he added that he was trying to change after a religious "epiphany."
According to Bilbrey's opinion, Michael "readily admitted that he used Biblical verses as a 'rod' to justify his severe punishments of the children and to control their behavior."
"Under the particular circumstances of this case, the trial court's restriction on Appellant's discussion of 'religious matters' during his parenting time did not exceed the court's discretionary authority or violate Appellant's rights," the judge wrote. "The welfare and best interests of the children must prevail."
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