Custody and God in Alabama

By Machan, Tibor R. | Free Inquiry, Spring 1994 | Go to article overview

Custody and God in Alabama


Machan, Tibor R., Free Inquiry


During the last several months I have gained firsthand knowledge of some aspects of family law in Alabama. A brief account of my experience may shed some light on what one may expect when dealing with domestic law in the Bible Belt.

In 1989 my wife and I separated, and in early 1990 we drew up a separation agreement that became the basis of our divorce decree issued in early 1991. The provisions were quite routine, including some child support and alimony payments I would make to my ex-wife until she finished her Ph.D. in Family and Child Development. We would have joint custody of our two young children, and would work together at child raising. If we hit some snags, we would first seek professional counseling and only as a last resort turn to litigation. Residence for the children would adjust to their schooling and our own home bases: while my ex-wife and I lived near each other, the children would spend equal time with each of us, but if either of us moved away, they would spend the school year with their mother and the summer with their father. After my ex-wife reached the point where she could obtain a professional position, we would renegotiate child support and alimony.

All went well until February 1993. Then unexpectedly, while in New York as a visiting professor, I received a summons asking for the joint custody to be discontinued, for my time with the children to be substantially reduced, and for increased child support. I hired an attorney by phone. After the two attorneys met, mine reported that my ex-wife's attorney would make an issue of my lack of religious faith, evidenced, he claimed, by numerous articles in which I attacked Jesus.

I am an atheist and make no bones about it. Delos McKown, the head of the philosophy department at Auburn University, where I have taught for years, is also a well-known and rather active atheist. A few years ago a reporter for the Montgomery Advertiser interviewed us concerning what atheists do at Christmas. I have only published one or two articles that directly discussed theological topics. One, in the Journal of Speculative Philosophy, called attention to the atheism of the economist Ludwig von Mises; the other, in the American Rationalist, recounted how I abandoned religion at the age of twenty-three while in the U. …

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