By now we’ve all seen this story in the news, and a lot of you may have even been outraged by it. The Palm Beach Circumcision Case came to an end yesterday when the mother of the four and a half year old boy tearfully signed the consent form to have her son undergo a circumcision in order to get herself out of jail, as the Judge had made it clear she would stay in jail until she signed these forms. Anti-circumcision activists protested outside. People argued that this is not the Court’s/government’s decision, claiming that this woman’s constitutional rights were being infringed upon.
It’s easy to get caught up in the media outrage when it’s a controversial, hot topic that incites passion. But what is this really about? Why would a judge go so far as to throw a mother in jail for refusing to consent to have her son circumcised, especially at the age of four-and-a-half years old??
A careful examination of the facts shows that this is a simple case of a mother that violated a custody/parenting plan Order, and a Court holding the Mother in contempt for violation of said Order. The crucial fact that so many people seem to gloss over is that this Mother agreed to the circumcision as part of the finalized parenting plan in 2012. She signed her name to a legally binding document, stating that she would share joint custody of this child with his father, and that they would have this child circumcised. This legally binding agreement was then incorporated into a court order, meaning that if she violated it, and the violation was found to be wilful, she could be held in contempt, which could include being jailed until the violation is cured.
For whatever reason, the mother then changed her mind about this circumcision. But one cannot simply “change their mind” about something when it’s made into a court order. What really got her into trouble though, is how she handled this decision. I don’t know on what this decision was based. Maybe she had a medical reason that was unknown at the time she signed the document. Maybe she signed the original document under duress. Whatever the reason, her solution got her into major trouble and led her to that moment in the photo above. Rather than appealing to the Court for help, she took the child and hid out, violating not only the portion of the court order that calls for the child to be circumcised, but the portion that gives the father parenting time with the child.
This is a simple contempt/enforcement case. Would people be so outraged if we took out the part about circumcision and just reported the fact that she signed a parenting plan and then absconded with the child, keeping him from his father, and violating the Court’s order? I would wager that people would agree the Court did the right thing. Why is it different when you add in the fact about circumcision? It shouldn’t be, but circumcision is one of those topics that incites controversy, even to the point of organized protest.
However, the fact is that if a court were to consider this fact, our judicial system would be even more broken than it already is. The second a contract is executed, there is no going back. Once the contract becomes a Court Order, there are even more significant legal consequences if it is violated. At no point in this case have I read that the mother asked for modification or claimed that she signed the original contract under duress. If she wanted half a chance in stopping the circumcision, she should have filed a petition explaining what the change in circumstance was and why it was in the child’s best interest to modify this provision of the agreement/order. Instead she took matters into her own hands and then cried victim and moral outrage when the Court enforced the contract that she willingly signed.
The Court didn’t make this decision for her, infringing upon her constitutional rights to parent. She made the decision three years ago, with the child’s father, to circumcise the child, and then put the agreement in writing. The Court simply upheld the agreement and Order, as it is charged with doing in every case when a Court Order is wilfully violated. The only person to blame for the way this ultimately ended is the Mother of this child, who violated a contract she signed and kidnapped her own son to keep him from his father.
–Rachel S. Silberstein is a Matrimonial and Family lawyer in New York City. To learn more, please visit her website at www.rssfamilylaw.com