Is there such a thing as an unbaptism?
December 5, 2012 2:58 PM   Subscribe

My ex-wife had our child baptized without my knowledge or permission. What can I do?

I am not okay with this. We are divorced and share legal responsibility, which includes religious decisions.

I was under the impression that the priest performing the baptism must obtain the permission of both parents.

Can the baptism be undone?

I have considered filing for contempt of the divorce order, but I am not sure what relief I could seek here.

What can I do?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (48 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Could you call your divorce lawyer?
posted by By The Grace of God at 3:00 PM on December 5, 2012 [3 favorites]

I am not religious. And I have a lot of negative feelings about organized religion. I understand why you would be angry about this. But. This is something that you need to let go. Especially if your child is young enough that they aren't really aware of what it all means. By trying to have it "undone" you are giving it more meaning than it actually has. You can't really win this. By all means consult with your attorney... but really think this through before waging war over this matter.
posted by kimdog at 3:04 PM on December 5, 2012 [78 favorites]

For clarification: is there a different church you want your child to be baptized at instead, or do you not want them baptized at all?
posted by The corpse in the library at 3:06 PM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you don't believe in it, what's there to undo? Let it go.
posted by availablelight at 3:07 PM on December 5, 2012 [50 favorites]

I can't answer the legal questions, but on the 'debaptism' front - what exactly are you looking to accomplish? Removal of your child's name from baptismal records? this may or may not be possible with a legal order. A debaptism ceremony that you could perform? there are some in the modern atheist/agnostic community.
posted by muddgirl at 3:07 PM on December 5, 2012

On the other hand, this could be a case of criminal contempt. Please talk to your lawyer. I grew up in a southern, Christian family, and my folks wanted me to be baptized when I was old enough to decide for myself. They would have been outraged if someone had baptized me before I had come of age. For believers, it's indelible.
posted by mochapickle at 3:07 PM on December 5, 2012 [4 favorites]

What is the concern? Are you a member of a different denomination? Are you a non-believer? Could make a big difference.

For a non-believer, baptism is pretty much a ceremony that has no meaning. You might want to just let it go. (Hit preview; I'm now the second.)

Over the last decades, there have been numerous instances of parents, grandparents, etc. doing just this thing. Much of it has to do with the Catholic belief that no one will even be considered for Heaven without having been baptized.
posted by megatherium at 3:08 PM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you're religious in a different religion, consult your chosen religious authority about how to address this religiously.

If you're not religious at all, I highly recommend you take this easy and focus on long term planning for raising your child according to your values, with the understanding that you will never really be able to control what your ex does and says to her. You may be able to get a court order going forward that specifically addresses things like religious school and church but I am very skeptical it will be worth the conflict.

Childrearing is for the long haul. Keep your eyes on what really matters to you. Think long and hard and with a lawyer's help before taking this to court.
posted by Salamandrous at 3:08 PM on December 5, 2012 [3 favorites]

And no you can't "un-baptize" a baby, at least not from the point of view of whatever church performed the rite. As far as they're concerned kids soul is safe now.

Your kid can, however, become a pre teen or teenager and remove him or herself from the church's good graces in the traditional way.

Is this really with fighting over?
posted by fshgrl at 3:09 PM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think it ultimately may be more helpful to look at this slightly differently.

Let's say you are a profound atheist and therefore do not want your child sprinkled with useless water. OK. But the water is useless; the concept of baptism is bullshit; there is nothing to undo because nothing real was actually done.

So I don't think this is actually about the baptism as much as it is about the appalling lack of respect for your parenting agreement your ex-wife just exhibited. I would not get drawn into a futile argument about the merits or demerits of baptism but BOY HOWDY would I raise hell about the smashing of boundaries you both agreed to be mutually bound by.

I would tell her "I don't give a shit about your fake holy water, but I am swearing an affidavit with the baptismal record in my attorney's office tomorrow. If you ever treat our parenting agreement with such cavalier disregard again, over any matter, you can expect to see me in court. That is all I have to say about this incident so I suggest you hear me loud and clear."
posted by DarlingBri at 3:16 PM on December 5, 2012 [108 favorites]

I am an atheist raised by a lapsed Catholic and an agnostic. When I was born, my father (agnostic) refused to have a baptism. My mother (Catholic) and my aunts (extremely Catholic) did some kind of shady emergency baptism for fear of my immortal soul or whatever. One of them told my father, and his response to this act was to take me to a half dozen other churches of various denominations and have me baptized again and again in order to cancel out the first baptism. Don't be my father. For those of us who do not believe, the whole concept of a baptism is pointless, it means as much as if someone had dipped the kid in glitter and declared him or her a fairy princess. I would let this one go, but make sure that the actual religious education (if any) would be a joint decision.
posted by crankylex at 3:17 PM on December 5, 2012 [16 favorites]

I don't think a baptism can be undone, it's a religious sacrament, not a legal condition.

Before you call your lawyer, consider that having the child baptized without your knowledge or permission does not necessarily mean your ex-wife is overriding your preferences or undermining your legal authority ... it may mean she assumed you weren't interested one way or another, if you are not religious or your religion doesn't have a different kind of baptism. In that case, there wouldn't have been any harm intended but communication between you and your co-parent could still definitely stand improvement.

But if big decisions have been a point of contention between the two of you to the extent that you're not functioning as co-parents, then it's worth pursuing, if only to (1) have a legal smackdown on the party interfering with the other party's part in child-rearing and/or (2) reassess the shared custody arrangement. Shared legal custody requires working together (hard for exes) with the child's best interests in mind at all times (hard when you disagree on what's best).

On preview, guys, the OP hasn't claimed to be anti-religious, it could just as easily be that they're two equally religious people with different religions.
posted by headnsouth at 3:19 PM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Is it possible that she was doing this out of genuine fear for your kid's immortal soul, and not just to diss you?

Because if so, I mean... I can see how that fear would override her legal obligation to consult you about a decision that ultimately doesn't mean anything unless you believe in it. And if you believe in it, then it's a safeguard.

I understand your outrage. There was an incident at the Jewish school I grew up in where one of the infant caretakers was found to have been baptizing the kids and nobody was amused. But if she actually believes it's going to save her kid's soul, and the only downside is that he gets some water on his head, she'd be a crappy mom if she didn't do it.
posted by fingersandtoes at 3:41 PM on December 5, 2012 [6 favorites]

On preview, guys, the OP hasn't claimed to be anti-religious, it could just as easily be that they're two equally religious people with different religions.

Being an atheist isn't anti-religious but sure. In that case the OP can also violate their agreement and have the child baptised, again, in his own faith. Or, he can keep it about the boundaries of the agreement and not about the religious rite and deal with it that way. Personally, I think option two puts him in a better strategic position, both short and long term.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:42 PM on December 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

And if you believe in it, then it's a safeguard.

But that's the thing. To clarify my earlier comment, perhaps OP, like my folks, believes in baptism but believes that the individual's decision to be baptized is intensely personal and that the choice is a significant milestone of your Christian journey. It's a turning point. They believe that if the decision to become a Christian is made for you, you are more likely to become passive, not active in your faith.

I'm an atheist now. I had decided to have a baptism when I was a teenager, and I believe now that my baptism was just harmless water. But my mother still believes I'll be buried as a Christian simply because I was baptized many years ago. OP's situation is a lot more complicated if it's his belief that baptism is for real.

Lawyer. Discussion. Lawyer. Discussion. And on preview, keep the kid away from this debate as much as you can.
posted by mochapickle at 3:54 PM on December 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

[Folks, please direct answers towards the OP and do not turn this into a general discussion about baptismal practices and beliefs except as it relates to this question.]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 3:55 PM on December 5, 2012

What are you more angry about, that your child was baptized in a religion you don't agree with, or that your ex-wife did it without your permission or input?

Figure out which one it is BEFORE talking to your lawyer, 'cause lawyers ain't cheap. If you don't know what remedy you seek, you need to have a list of possible ones before you even talk to your lawyer. Remedies for this could be all over the place; you could sue to gain full legal custody of your child if you believe the child was Baptized in a faith you disagree with or believe could harm your child, or you could just request an apology and a stern admonition from the court.

If you are of a religious denomination that Baptizes, but your child was not Baptized in your faith, take a step back and consult your own religious leader(s) before consulting your lawyer. It's cheaper.
posted by juniperesque at 3:59 PM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

How old is the kid? If the kid is old enough to be aware that he or she was baptized and has some idea of what it means, i.e. is being indoctrinated, then talk to your kid about it. If the kid is still very young let it go.
posted by mareli at 4:15 PM on December 5, 2012

My ex did this our son. Repeatedly, as I guess whatever church of the day that is holding mass at the Days Inn requires a new baptism as all those others are fakes.

Like you, this upset me a great deal.

Do what DarlingBri says. That is amazing advice and exactly what I was coming here to say. As these things go, this is a minor infraction and mostly harmless. You most likely won't get much out of this incident in particular.

However - it is very important that you re-affirm your boundaries, and that you document that this occurred. That's about all you can realistically accomplish, here.

I also wanted to say that while I appreciate and understand you freaking out about this, you should relax. You're going to fight about much bigger things, I promise you. So, you gotta kinda just let it go, or it's gonna eat you up.

Be the better human. lord, I know it aint easy. But your kid(s) will thank you for it later And Good luck.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 4:16 PM on December 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

Pretty much every Christian denomination recognizes baptisms performed in any other Christian denomination.

So, if your denomination is different from hers in which your child was baptized, it's still good. Even if you believe in adult baptism, your church will allow a confirmation ritual.

And if your denomination is atheism, see above.
posted by beagle at 4:17 PM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Can the baptism be undone?

No. Baptism marks the soul and identifies the person as a child of God, forever. It can not be undone.

What can I do?

Let this go and make sure the kid has plenty of knowledge regarding other religions and beliefs, especially non-Christian and pagan beliefs. Sit back and bask in the knowledge that you're helping your child achieve a well rounded education.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:27 PM on December 5, 2012 [3 favorites]

I would say that it might be worth fighting from the perspective that your ex violated the divorce decree without consulting you.

Keep in mind that depending on the situation her attorney may argue that you are right, and that the decree needs to be revised to remove those rights from you.

My wife was in a similar situation with her ex making medical and mental health decisions for her kids and also not including her in the loop for all school related stuff (disciplinary or whatever). The judge basically just came down hard on him and gave him a lecture not to do it again.
posted by nickerbocker at 4:36 PM on December 5, 2012

Baptisms can't be undone, but they can be preempted by later baptisms, confirmations, ceremonies of adulthood, etc., in many religious traditions.

There are two issues here: a) your ex's breach of the custody agreement, which is something to discuss with your attorney, and b) the ramifications of your ex's choice regarding your child's future religious upbringing, if any, which is something to discuss with a spiritual advisor if you are concerned that infant baptism into one denomination or tradition will make your child ineligible to participate in another denomination or religious tradition (I have never heard of this happening in any of the religious traditions with which I am familiar) or ineligible to participate in any particular rite, including "baptism of a believer" Christian ceremonies.
posted by Sidhedevil at 4:37 PM on December 5, 2012

My dad was a jerk for a while about my baptism (okay, fine, still is) and I was old enough to say "I want this." By "jerk" I mean that he sent me to a therapist to try and prove I was being brainwashed, and today, 24 years later, he still calls my faith "your mother and [stepdad]'s religion." As in, he sent me a letter using those terms a few weeks ago. It ****es me off. Don't be like that.

But totally do go to a lawyer/the court, because this is jerky behavior on her part, and it's a pattern that needs to be stopped ASAP.

My church won't baptize a minor child without the express permission of the parents - they wouldn't do mine till my dad signed a form, which frankly made things a lot worse from the PoV of people being manipulative and holding things (children, hi) hostage and the other stupid jerky crap divorced parents have a tendency to pull on each other. My gosh, negotiations. So glad I'm an adult now. Except for the part where I'm constantly negotiating with people who learned how to negotiate by negotiating with ex-spouses they hate.

Anyway, you can always be re-baptized, and some churches require you to be re-baptized (e.g., mine won't accept anyone else's; Catholics only take some other baptisms and specifically don't like ours.) Child/infant baptisms, in particular, often require a later re-baptism by all the folks who only baptize adults (or at least older kids.) But the only undoing of a baptism is generally something like excommunication, and that generally doesn't happen unless you're an adult who does something really wrong in someone's eyes. And heck, even excommunication still leaves you Catholic (they literally cannot undo the baptism.)

Oh - if you talk to the priest, you may find out that they thought your permission was given. Or it might turn out that the priest didn't follow an ecclesiastical rule of some sort, and the baptism itself was invalid in the eyes of the larger church organization (that tends to happen only in big institutional churches, and you usually need to break a really big ecclesiastical rule.)

And, if this was a baptism of a very young child, it's often really complete (in the sense of initiation rites) till confirmation. You get the grace and redemption and stuff from baptism, but you're not exactly... it's hard to describe. You're not totally "in", in many ways, without more education. Basically.
posted by SMPA at 4:49 PM on December 5, 2012 [4 favorites]

From the OP:
To answer some defining questions: our child is six-years-old; this is not about religion but the violation of our joint legal responsibility; the Question of unbaptism is because I am not sure what remedy I could be seeking.
posted by jessamyn at 5:48 PM on December 5, 2012

The remedy you should be seeking is working with your lawyer to better define the boundaries of the custody arrangement. I think it's relatively common to be able to establish that both parents need to consent to religious decisions made on behalf of the minor.
posted by asciident at 5:51 PM on December 5, 2012 [6 favorites]

As I mentioned before, and putting aside any questions of theology, people can be removed from baptismal records (although some churches resist doing this).
posted by muddgirl at 5:53 PM on December 5, 2012

My mom caved in on having me baptized Catholic in order to shut up my grandma, then went to her Methodist minister uncle and tried to get him to rebaptize me. He said it couldn't be done. So I dunno on the undoing bit (even though I wish I hadn't been drubbed into the infernal ranks before I could have any say about it).
posted by jenfullmoon at 5:53 PM on December 5, 2012

Honestly it sounds like you are bitter and looking for an excuse to get angry.

If it's not about the religion then it's really not a big deal and you should probably just let it go. That shit's bad for your soul, not to mention your kid.
posted by AV at 6:12 PM on December 5, 2012 [6 favorites]

It is unlikely that "remove record of child's baptism" is a legal remedy available to you.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:17 PM on December 5, 2012

If this is: "not about religion but the violation of our joint legal responsibility" then you need to address this with your exwife in the courts, not with your child in a church. Otherwise you are waging a proxy war with your child in a not-so-cool way.
posted by pseudonick at 6:20 PM on December 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

Anecdotally: My grandmother babysat me as a child and actually had me baptized behind my parents' backs because she was worried something would happen to me and I wouldn't go to heaven. We now tell this as a funny story in my family. I understand your anger at her overstepping her bounds (and yes, absolutely you should have a legal discussion about boundaries) but you need to let the whole baptism thing go.

Whether or not your kid grows up to be the religion your ex baptized him in is probably the more important thing and you have a lot more say in that, as does he.
posted by magnetsphere at 6:36 PM on December 5, 2012

I am not a lawyer. I am a formerly-Catholic, nondenominationally spiritual theist.

this is not about religion but the violation of our joint legal responsibility; the Question of unbaptism is because I am not sure what remedy I could be seeking.

I think people are still unclear about what you mean by "remedy". Presently, a religious baptism has no legal impact on a person, so the only kind of remedy you could get would be a religious one. But, presumably if you were a theist, you'd know that - and I think that's why people are asking what religion you are, and why you are looking at this from a legal perspective. When it comes to Baptism there IS no legal perspective as such. Muddgirl is right that some people can be removed from baptismal records, although someone's being ON a baptismal record is something that, from a practical standpoint, would only be of interest to geneologists several decades hence. Legally, whether you're on one or another church's baptismal records is irrelevant.

This is not to say that you don't have a right to be concerned that your ex went against your wishes - THAT is the issue you should be speaking to a lawyer about. But a lawyer can't "un-Baptize" you for the same reason that a priest can't negotiate a plea agreement - they're two different fields.

As far as the religious perspective goes - If you are a member of a particular faith, I would go to your spiritual advisor and speak to them about it. If you're not religious -- well, the advice I'm about to give is a rather unorthodox spin on this issue inspired by what my Sunday School teacher taught me (and would make her raise her eyebrows); but, I was taught that it's possible for a lay person to perform a Baptism - as long as the intent and the sincere desire was there, I could baptize someone even though I'm not a priest and even though I'd be using Poland Spring bottled water rather than holy water. A prayer and my own intent would be enough.

So in that spirit - if you are not religious, but you want some way to un-do a Baptism, maybe make one up yourself. It wouldn't change your child's standing as far as that particular church goes -- but neither does your child's baptism have any impact insofar as the secular world goes. But it seems like it would help YOU get past this, and that would be a good thing if you can't just blow it off. I mean, I recommend just blowing it off first of all, but I respect if you can't and maybe your own personally-devised Unbaptism Ceremony is the way to go.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:42 PM on December 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

Too late for a bris? ;)

More seriously, you may have no real recourse here, but the courts don't really look all that favorable on one parent pulling religious BS on the kids without the other's consent.

Seconding the "talk to your divorce lawyer", you might have just gotten one more "big" holiday per year!
posted by pla at 6:53 PM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you have a decent relationship with your ex then talk to her about it.

You have 12 years of co-parenting ahead of you. You can have a very expensive parenting relationship that's filled with anger and lawyers (and as a bonus can be damaging to your child). Or you can try to get some boundaries and communications hammered out between the two of you.

I understand that you're angry, but keep your perspective. Your kid wasn't damaged here. The issue is how to make respectful co-parenting decisions. Focus on that because 12 years of lawyering is going to be miserable for everyone - including your child.
posted by 26.2 at 6:56 PM on December 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

You haven't specified whether you have a legal document that specifies your joint responsibility for matters of religion, a verbal agreement, or just a bunch of assumptions and unspoken expectations.

I think that the best thing for you to do is to have a calm and rational conversation with your ex-spouse, where you explain that these are the sort of decisions about which you would like to be consulted.

As has been echoed elsewhere, "unbaptism" isn't really a thing and looking for legal remedies for something like a baptism is not going to ease the road you're going to be travelling for the next two decades.
posted by DWRoelands at 7:09 PM on December 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

I think if I were you I would save my anger for things that matter.

My own religious viewpoint is that a person has to decide for themselves about baptism and that before then all that is happening is someone is getting wet. I understand you are upset that your wishes for your child's upbringing are not being respected but I think your beef is with the greater issue and not with the physical act of baptism. If your ex truly feels your child would go to hell if not baptized -well, do you hate her so much that you would deny her that comfort? If it is more of a control thing on her part-well, focus on THAT in general as yes, that is an issue worth dealing with.

Even if you two were on the same sheet of music regarding baptism, the truth is that as your child gets older he or she will most definitely have his or own viewpoints on the matter. You are best served by figuring out how to best parent this child together in such a way that he or she won't feel like the rope in a tug of war.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 7:22 PM on December 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

No, you can't undo the baptism, any more than you can undrink that last cup of coffee. Time -> forward only, and all that stuff.

What can you do? You can take the legalist road and tell your ex what for, or you can think long and hard about how your child is going to see this, now and in the future. Making this into a big deal may not really advance your agenda. Seriously, unless you belong to a religion that believes that Christian baptism precludes entry into heaven, just drop it.
posted by bricoleur at 9:49 PM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

In case you haven't seen it already, the situation in this question has a lot of differences from yours, but it is also about baptism without parental permission and you might find some of the answers interesting.
posted by Busy Old Fool at 4:39 AM on December 6, 2012

Can the baptism be undone?

No; it happened. You could speak to your divorce lawyer and make some sort of complaint, but I really doubt any court is going to restrict or alter the mother's custody or access to their child for a common religious custom that is part of the mother's tradition.

I was under the impression that the priest performing the baptism must obtain the permission of both parents.

Why would you think this? The preist is not an officer of the court; their job from their point of view is to save souls. The preist believes his authority comes from someone who outranks you and the law. Even assuming they know you exist, the preist isn't throwing up barriers to increasing his flock by asking if you're on board.

The answer here is to improve your relationship with your ex to where you at least have the mutual respect not to do things like this. The other option is to do a better job than her in instilling your values in your child, so one day they will consider this baptism to be null and void.
posted by spaltavian at 5:28 AM on December 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

Can the baptism be undone?

Not in any sort of qualified or emotionally fulfilling way, no. I think most of the answers upthread are on the ball (you should treat this like your ex-wife took your son to a really intense swimming lesson), but if that's not giving you the closure you need, you could invent your own ritual to subsume the Catholic one in your mind.

(Maybe you pour water over his/her head again, but this time do it while reading something out of The Demon-Haunted World about how cool H20 is as a bipolar solvent. Buy donuts; I bet your friends will come.)
posted by Mayor West at 5:37 AM on December 6, 2012

I was under the impression that the priest performing the baptism must obtain the permission of both parents.

Why would you think this? The preist is not an officer of the court; their job from their point of view is to save souls. The preist believes his authority comes from someone who outranks you and the law. Even assuming they know you even exist, the preist isn't throwing up barriers to increasing his flock by asking if your know about it too.

The Catholic baptism ritual just asks the parent(s) if they are willing to raise the child Catholic and are willing to reject Satan. But it's mostly about the child, not the parents. The priest (or deacon) isn't trying to increase his flock, he is trying to "register" the soul with God. The priest isn't going to let the unavailability of one of the parents get in the way of this.

Anyway, you have all the right in the world to be pissed off at your ex wife for doing this without your permission. However, I'm not sure you or the child have suffered any harm that a court can remedy. If anything, her actions are in violation of the court's order and the court will probably just admonish her to knock it off.
posted by gjc at 5:45 AM on December 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

Okay, so here's the deal.

As someone who is divorced myself, I know what section of the standard divorce paperwork you're probably talking about - it's the "joint legal responsibility" clause that covers all major decisions around religion, school, tattoos, etc etc. It does not cover the minor day-to-day decisions - or if it does, it most likely just has some language about how parents must notify each other about minor decisions made within an appropriate amount of time.

What a major decision is, however, varies from person to person. For some, being baptized is not a major decision, but say, sending the kid to religious school would be. If your wife is Catholic, this is likely not a fuck-you measure, but a "save the baby's soul" measure, especially as the new Pope just put out a letter saying that limbo doesn't exist, which means unbaptized babies go to hell. (If you believe in that sort of thing.) If she had a major ceremony and didn't tell you about it until after, then that's one thing, but if it was a quiet dunking/sprinkling, she may genuinely not have thought it was a thing she had to consult with you on.

There is, as many people have said, no such thing as an unbaptism. While some priests may remove baptismal records, others will fight tooth and nail to do such a thing, as they would view it as a violation of the child's rights.

I think you're going to have to suck it up on this one, but maybe you can have a discussion with your ex-wife on precisely what you think major decisions are, and what you would want to be asked about permission on.
posted by corb at 6:14 AM on December 6, 2012

especially as the new Pope just put out a letter saying that limbo doesn't exist, which means unbaptized babies go to hell. (If you believe in that sort of thing.)

This is not the Catholic Church's position...

"Our conclusion is that the many factors that we have considered ... give serious theological and liturgical grounds for hope that unbaptized infants who die will be saved and enjoy the beatific vision," the document said.
posted by drezdn at 7:19 AM on December 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

At 6, your child is aware of having been baptized. To undo it with any additional ritual makes the war over the child even more intense. What kind of person do you want your child to be? Sit down with your child and talk about religion; ask what it means to him/her, and talk to your child about your own religious background, why you feel the way you do about religion, and about spirituality.

I was raised Catholic, my ex- was raised in the nearest mainstream Christian church, and we are both atheists. I took my son to Christmas Eve services at various churches for the music, pageantry and ritual. I talked to him about my spiritual/religious beliefs, and offered to take him to any church or synagogue if he was interested (I could now add mosque). When, at @ 11, he was invited to a free religious camp where I knew there would be an invitation to join, and possibly some pressure, I talked to my ex- about it, and talked to my son about it, telling him that I would respect his religious/ spiritual choices.

So, my ex- and I were on the same page about religion. But he made lots of decisions without me, and routinely kept information from me. He actively worked to sabotage my relationship with my son. And other stuff, in spades. He flagrantly violated our agreement. I yelled at my ex-, made demands for things that were critical to me, like telling me what teachers had said, and sucked it up, figuratively biting my tongue until it bled. Despite my ex's crappy behavior, I expected my son to respect and honor his dad. I supported the fact that he loves his dad a lot. My son is now grown. At times, he sees his dad pretty clearly, and has told me he appreciates all I've done for him. The loser in all of this has been my son. His dad wanted to be the most loved, and it caused a lot of conflict when he disparaged me. Lots of trouble and not-great decisions were made because I didn't have information. Then my ex- remarried, and the stepmom did more of the same, because all she had to go on was what ex- told her about me. I could go on, but the bitterness will just grow, so I'll stop.

Talk to your ex-, via lawyer if necessary, about the need to work together for your child's health & happiness, that a major life decision like baptism must be discussed. That you are and will be fully involved in your child's life. That not involving you is bad for your child. Go to co-parenting classes if they exist in your area. For the sake of your child, learn to work together without a lawyer. When your child is at your home, expect your child to communicate with mom, and to respect and honor mom. Develop a communications stream. When child goes back to mom's, talk about or send an email with any news, no matter how small - lost tooth, movies seen, issues with child's friends, homework, etc. Email or call mom frequently and ask about child, school, friends, etc. And stay focused on your goal, which is raising a healthy child with as little divorce trauma as possible. Make sure that this isn't about you and your marital baggage.

The remedy I would seek if I were inclined to get legal is an increase in regular communication, like an email or call every week with news, including education, emotional, cultural, and social life. In fact, you could write a simple form letter for news in those areas - movies, books, tv, friendships (and soon, boys), food issues, school, homework, projects, dance classes, sleep, emotional life, and more. (I wish I'd done something like that, now that I think of it.) Good luck to you and your child. This isn't easy, but it is important.
posted by theora55 at 7:35 AM on December 6, 2012 [3 favorites]

You can talk to the priest who performed the ceremony and let him know that this went against your wishes. Maybe he'll be unhappy that he got duped, and he'll have some harsh words for your ex. Or he'll be an unrepentant asshole, in which case you can give that information to your lawyer as well (not to do anything right now, but in case your ex does something else douchey down the road).
posted by disconnect at 12:07 PM on December 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

Cool off and sit down with your wife alone. (or with trusted others if either of you are too volitile to be in a room together.)

Tell her: "I'm really angry that you violated our divorce decree and had Esme baptised. I would have:

1. Liked to have waited for her to decide on her own
2. Wanted her to be baptised in my religion
3. Wanted to be there for the ceremony
4. Wanted her to be dedicated to Satan in a black sabbath

No matter what, we have to parent together for the rest of our lives and it's not healthy for us to sneak around behind each other's backs, especially on matters as important as this. I can't undo what you've done, but imagine that I had done something similar and YOU had no say. You can certainly understand why I'm angry. I'd like to move on from here, but I have serious trust issues. Please help me understand WHY you did this and why you didn't involve me, so we can overcome the issue and this doesn't happen again."

There's no reason to drag this into court at this point, since there IS no remedy.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:44 PM on December 6, 2012

From the perspective of church rules-lawering, your ex-wife has done one of two things depending on how your kid ends up feeling about it as they get older:
  • If they end up becoming religious in one of the various Christian flavors then she has saved him half a day's effort unless your kid doesn't want to be saved the effort, this is non-catastrophic.

  • If they end up being either non-religious or religious in one of the various non-Christian flavors then your ex-wife has formally transmuted your kid in the future from heathen to apostate. There are only a couple of very specific instances where this could possibly mean anything for a non-Christian, specifically in regards to marrying into the couple of Christian religious traditions that care about the baptismal status of people their adherents want to marry. In these cases it is generally an advantage to be an apostate rather than heathen.
  • None of this is to say that your being upset at you ex-wife/co-parent is in any way unvalid, because going behind your back on this is a pretty fucked up thing to do - it is just to note that, in terms of practical real world effects this could have on your kid's life, it is pretty much only positive or ignorable.
    posted by Blasdelb at 5:06 AM on December 8, 2012

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