A BDSM, Polyamory, or Alternative Lifestyle Might Cost You Your Children

Certain “lifestyle choices” you make might result in a termination of parental rights case, according to one Court of Appeals in Tennessee.  This is troubling given the assumptions the Court made in a recent case.

IN RE: ALEKSANDREE M.M. AND MARIE J.M.

Child rapists go to prisonThis is a case involving the repeated rape of a minor child by her mother’s husband, who was not the father of the child.  After the father was convicted of rape, the state filed a termination of parental rights case against the mother because she didn’t protect the kids from her husband.  When I originally read this case, my first thought was “Well yes, the children should be removed, what happened was awful.”

However, upon more careful reading I find the court’s reasoning to be a little odd.  Let’s take a closer look at the situation.

The first part of the story is as I wrote above.  What is important to point out is that there was no evidence that mother participated in the rape, or had any idea the abuse had occurred.  Furthermore, her husband had been convicted and sentenced to a term in prison, so there was little chance the child will be subjected to his company any time soon.  So what’s the problem?

Failure to protect a child

In Tennessee, your parental rights can be terminated if it is found, by clear and convincing evidence, that you “knowingly” failed to protect your child from conduct defined by statute to be severe child abuse.  The court noted that  “knowing” means that the parent “had been presented with sufficient facts from which he or she could have and should have recognized that severe child abuse had occurred or that it was highly probable that severe child abuse would occur.”

Do you see signs of abuse?This isn’t unreasonable.  Put another way, this means that even if you don’t witness any abuse yourself, but you are aware of facts which should convince you that abuse either has occurred, or is very likely to occur, and you don’t do anything to protect your child, your rights could be terminated by a court in Tennessee.

Did this mother act “knowingly”?

Remember, the court is examining the time period before the mother ever knew her husband was sexually abusing her child.  The court found that the mother’s “lifestyle and choices” resulted in a “sexually charged, abusive and dangerous environment” for the children.  Contributing to this environment were the following factors:

  • The mother and her husband lived with other adults in a “polyamory” lifestyle.
  • There were pornographic images on the computer
  • There was porn in the household and at least one of the children had come in contact with it
  • The mother had a profile on a bondage, discipline, and submission and masochism (“BDSM”) website, where she listed herself as the “owned slave” of her husband.
  • On the same website, she indicated one of her favorite activities is “bottoming”, or taking orders from men.
  • Mother had, on occasion, left her daughter alone with her husband.

The court was pretty clear that these factors created a dangerous environment for the kids, which she should have known would lead to their abuse.

To most of us, this lifestyle certainly seems unusual, at the least.  Some people would go a lot farther and say these activities are offensive, immoral, dirty, and offends many people’s sense of decency.  I’m not so easily offended.

We must put our personal prejudices aside and ask ourselves if all of these people are really putting their children in danger simply because they take part in activities that deviate from the norm.  Some searching on google leads me to believe that there are more people participating in these “alternative” activities than I would have guessed.  If all these people deserve to lose their kids, we’ve got a serious problem!

A dangerous lifestyle?

A dangerous lifestyle?The court is saying that this woman should have known that her lifestyle would result in the severe abuse of her children.  I think it’s a bit of a jump to say that people who engage in unusual sexual behavior are necessarily going to involve or harm the children.  Yes, I realize this particular case resulted in the rape of a child, but I’m not convinced that it’s fair to generalize so broadly about people who choose activities outside of the norm.

After all, is everybody who has tattoos a lawless biker who will end up in jail?  Of course not, that’s ridiculous.  But is this court making any less of a generalization?

In this case it would appear that the mother lived this lifestyle nearly continuously, given that there were “several” other adults who testified at trial about the polyamorous living arrangement the adults had.  It’s hard to tell how much this mattered to the court.

Apparently the children knew about the mother’s lifestyle, but had they actually witnessed any of the activity?  What if the mother had only acted out these BDSM activities away from the home on weekends?  What if it was only once a month?  What if one of the kids knew, but the other didn’t?  Would we take only one of the kids away then?

The “bottom” line

See what I did there?

There are many factors a court should look at when determining whether or not to terminate a parents rights to their child, and I think it’s interesting how much weight was given to the mother’s apparent sexual preferences.  In a custody case, this extra emphasis on alternative lifestyles may work either for, or against you.

If you are, or will be, involved in a divorce, custody battle, or termination of parental rights case and you or your partner are involved in “alternative” lifestyles, you’ll want the help of an attorney to help you work through how this information might be discovered and usedContact me for help.  I promise I’m not going to judge you, and your information will be kept confidential.