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Smith v. Smith

Supreme Court of Arizona

December 28, 1961

Betty Jean SMITH, Appellant,
v.
John Paul SMITH, Appellee.

In Banc.

Page 231

[90 Ariz. 191] Langerman & Begam, by Robert Begam, Lewis, Roca, Scoville, Beauchamp & Linton, by John P. Frank, Phoenix, for appellant.

Cavanagh & O'Connor, by James H. O'Connor and Robert G. Beshears, Phoenix, for appellee.

STRUCKMEYER, Chief Justice.

This is an appeal from an order of the superior court changing the custody of a minor child based on these significant facts. On September 13th, 1957, appellant, Betty Jean Smith, was granted a divorce from appellee, John Paul Smith and given the care, custody and control of their child, Mark, with reasonable visitorial rights in appellee. The same year the minor child being then six years old was enrolled in the first grade in the public schools in Phoenix. On August 4th, 1958, appellee petitioned the superior court for a change of custody alleging inter alia that the child was not receiving proper care, teaching and education. Following a hearing, an order was entered changing the custody from appellant to appellee during the school year. Review of that order is here sought.

Continuing jurisdiction to amend, change or alter the provisions of a decree relating to the custody of minor children is expressly recognized by statute, A.R.S. § 25-321. It is, however, the rule that as a condition to modification of custodial provisions there must be shown a change of circumstances materially affecting the welfare of the child. Galbraith v. Galbraith, 88 Ariz. 358, 356 P.2d 1023; Ward v. Ward, 88 Ariz. 130, 353 P.2d 895; Schulze v. Schulze, 79 Ariz. 86, 284 P.2d 457; Davis v. Davis, 78 Ariz. 174, 277 P.2d 261. In matters pertaining to custody the best interest of the child is the primary consideration of the court; so where a change of custody is sought, it must be shown that the welfare of the child will be advanced by the change. Cone v. Righetti, 73 Ariz. 271, 240 P.2d 541. The trial court is in the best position to judge what will be in the best interest of the child but if the record shows an abuse of sound judicial discretion this Court will not hesitate to reverse or modify. Galbraith v. Galbraith, supra; Ward v. Ward, supra; Bradstreet v. Bradstreet, 34 Ariz. 340, 271

Page 232

P. 717; McFadden v. McFadden, 22 Ariz. 246, 196 P. 452.

Appellant is a member of a religious group known as Jehovah's Witnesses. Apparently she became affiliated with this religious group some time prior to her divorce since the counterclaim in the divorce action alleged such affiliation. Pursuant to their beliefs appellant instructed the minor child not to salute the flag of the United States of America and not to participate in school activities where allegiance is pledged, and kept the child home on [90 Ariz. 192] the day of the Christmas play. Appellant's testimony is illustrative of her attitude:

'Q. All right, do you object to the child saluting the flag? A. Yes.

'Q. Do you object to the child pledging allegiance to the flag? A. Yes.

'Q. Do you object to the child observing or participating in Christmas plays in school? A. Yes.

'Q. Even though all of the rest of the children or most of them, participate? A. Yes.'

The Jehovah's Witnesses teach that the obligation imposed by Law of God is superior to laws enacted by governments. As one of their religious beliefs they consider that the flag is an image within the literal version of the Bible, Exodus, Chapter 20, Verse 4--'Thou shalt not make unto three any graven image,' and that the pledge of allegiance to the flag is a form of worship violating God's commandment against idolatry.

The lower court stated during the course of the trial:

'* * * unless the court is satisfied that Mrs. Smith is willing to forego those beliefs as far as her child is concerned, I certainly feel that there is some ...


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