A father’s anger and negative statements about his son’s sexual orientation qualifies as mental abuse that justifies a final protective order, Maryland’s second-highest court found in a newly reported opinion.
The Maryland Appellate Court affirmed a protective order against the father, who is identified in the opinion only by his initials, that was issued nearly a year ago in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court.
The circuit judge found that the father “repeatedly communicated in person and through text messages homophobic comments and religious beliefs, causing mental injury to (his son).”
The appeals court initially ruled on March 30 but agreed last week to publish the decision as a reported opinion following a motion from the mother’s lawyer, Larry J. Feldman.
“There are not a lot of reported opinions on protective orders,” Feldman told The Daily Record Tuesday. “So I don’t think litigants, their attorneys, circuit court judges or district court judges have had a lot of guidance on what constitutes mental abuse.”
According to the opinion, the boy’s mother filed for a protective order for herself and her two children in June 2022, alleging that the father had caused mental injury by sending abusive texts and emails.
The father’s communications had “progressively gotten worse” over the years, the mother testified. After the couple’s older child came out as transgender, the mother was supportive but the father refused to use the child’s preferred name, the court wrote.
In June 2022, the couple’s younger son told the father that he was gay, the opinion states. The boy told his mother that the father replied, “No, you’re not, but I love you anyway,” according to the mother’s testimony.
The father then sent a series of text messages to the older child about transgender issues and to the mother about his Christian beliefs.
“… Our father tells us about tranny’s and gays right in the Bible,” one text read, according to the opinion. “He says any one who cuts things off or if man lay with man or women with women will be burned.”
“You have been warned and will have no excuse now once asked to give an account,” he wrote in another text.
At a hearing on the final protective order, the circuit judge spoke with both children privately and concluded that while the older child was not upset by the father’s communications, the younger child was afraid of the father’s behavior and unwillingness to believe him about his sexual orientation.
The boy had also told a social worker that he was afraid his father might hit him because of the father’s anger and refusal to accept the child’s sexual orientation.
The circuit judge granted a final protective order only for the younger child. The order allowed the father to have visitation only if the boy felt comfortable and to text or call the boy but prohibited the father from using “that communication to abuse (him) regarding sexual orientation or religion.”
The appeals court agreed that there was sufficient evidence of mental abuse to support a final protective order. The three-judge panel of the Maryland Appellate Court also rejected the father’s claim that the protective order was intended to punish him “for his unpopular parenting style and not to prevent future harm.”
“We think the relief ordered was reasonable and well-tailored to the facts presented,” Senior Judge Alexander Wright Jr. wrote. “It was (the child’s) fear and worry regarding Father’s views about (his) sexual orientation and Father’s seeming inability to see that his views caused and could cause a substantial risk of harm to his son that the court attempted to address in its order.”
Harry Siegel, one of the lawyers for the father, said he generally supports when Maryland’s appeals courts issue reported opinions in family law cases because it happens so rarely.
“However, in a matter such as (this) case, I believe the legal bar has to be set higher than it was in this particular case because of the real life implications to everyone involved,” Siegel said.
Feldman, the lawyer for the mother, said the father’s statements rose to an extreme level in this case and justified the abuse finding.
“I don’t know that one comment would be enough, or I don’t think a parent stating that they disagree with their child’s sexual orientation or preference is enough to get a protective order,” Feldman said. “I think it has to rise to the level of abuse.”
The Appellate Court noted that the parties in this case did not raise constitutional issues related to freedom of religion or parental rights.