The Herald Bulletin

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Local News

November 19, 2010

Father says his faith cost his custody

ANDERSON, Ind. — An Anderson father says that because he professed religious doubt in a custody hearing, a judge took his children from him.

Craig Scarberry, 29, this month was stripped of joint custody of his three children, Kaelyn, 7; William, 6, and Ayvah, 4, because he changed his religion from Christian to agnostic.

“It blew my mind away,” Scarberry said of an order written by Madison County  Superior Court 3 Commissioner George C. Pancol and affirmed by Judge Thomas Newman. The order that stripped Scarberry of joint custody listed evidence heard in the case upon which Pancol based his ruling.

Pancol’s order says Scarberry “did not participate in the same religious training that the (mother) exercised and that (Scarberry) was agnostic.” Scarberry has until Dec. 1 to appeal the ruling, which has reduced his custody to visitation with his children four hours per week and on alternating weekends.

“I’m a good, loving father, and this ruling has taken my children away,” Scarberry said. “I wasn’t interfering in their right to be brought up in a Christian environment,” he said, noting that the children still attend Christian school and church services as they have done in the four years that he has had joint custody.

Pancol, through a court staff member, said it would be unethical to comment about the case. The mother, Christine Porcaro, and her attorney, Andrew C. Lawrence, did not return telephone messages seeking comment for this article.

A Navy veteran and health-care worker, Scarberry has obtained a permit for a demonstration in support of fathers’ rights for Dec. 16 at the Madison County Courthouse. He said he believes his religious liberty has been violated.

“I thought I lived in America, where you have the right to practice what you want to practice without persecution,” he said. “I feel like I’ve suffered the highest persecution ... I had everything taken away from me.” Scarberry also was ordered to pay child support, which had not been stipulated when he and the children’s mother shared custody.

Pancol’s order included other evidence presented in court. It said there was evidence that Scarberry had used profanity in front of the children and at times “failed to control or manage his anger. ... In addition, (Scarberry) was sending a great number of text messages to (Porcaro).”

The order does not say that Scarberry was abusive or negligent toward the children.

Earlier, Percaro had obtained a protective order against Scarberry, which he objected to. She alleged that Scarberry “attempts to harrass and intimidate me at my place of employment with abusive language and profanity” and accused him of “randomly and unexpectedly stopping by my house at different hours of  the day and night.”

A protective order against Scarberry was issued in April, and Scarberry said evidence was presented later in court to refute the allegations. A month later, both parties renewed an agreement that extended joint custody.

Pancol’s order also included evidence that the mother “had left minor children at home alone, did not feed them breakfast and did not at time(s) buckle them in their car seats.”

The order severing joint custody was issued by Pancol on Nov. 1 and affirmed by Newman on Nov. 8. It said that when Scarberry had been a Christian, “the parties were able to communicate relatively effectively.”

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