CHARLOTTE, NC (Michael Gordon/The Charlotte Observer) - Kendra Stocks got her daughter baptized. Now she's going to jail.
In a head-on collision between matters of church and state, the Charlotte woman begins a contempt-of-court sentence on Friday, stemming from the clandestine christening of her child in August 2016. The baptism came one day after a Mecklenburg judge gave full custody to the girl's father, "specifically including decisions concerning religion."
Paul Schaaf learned of baptism of his daughter when Stocks posted photographs of the ceremony on Facebook, court records indicate. He then complained to the courts.
Last March, District Court Judge Sean Smith found Stocks guilty of contempt. Smith wrote that the mother had acted in "bad-faith disregard" by not telling Schaaf about the ceremony and refusing to give him any role in how and where and it would take place – despite the importance Schaaf placed on the event.
Stocks appealed. Smith's ruling was upheld Monday in Superior Court. The original 10-day jail stay, however, was cut to seven.
Stocks, 36, said Wednesday that she has never been incarcerated before.
"I'm scared," she told the Observer. "I'm sad about what has happened. I don't regret having her baptized. That was in her best interest ... I don't see how this is in the best interest of the family. Her father is sending her mother to jail."
A courts spokeswoman said Smith could not comment on an ongoing matter.
Jonathan Feit, Schaaf's attorney, said Stocks is being punished, not for baptizing her child, but for ignoring a judge.
"For our system to work, there ought to be consequences for willfully and intentionally violating a court order," he said Wednesday. "I teach my children that. I reject the notion that anybody else is responsible for what is happening besides Ms. Stocks herself."
The daughter, who turned 4 last month, was the product of a six-month relationship between Stocks and Schaaf that ended in February 2014, documents say. Two months later, Schaaf filed for full custody, citing chronic disagreements with Stocks over visitation and holiday schedules, and the infant's daycare site and medical care. A particular point of contention: Stocks refused to include Schaaf in the child's last name, documents say.
And there was also the matter of religion.
Stocks said both she and Schaaf, an insurance broker, are practicing Catholics and wanted the child baptized and raised in the church. Yet the court files speak of a prolonged disagreement over spiritual matters between the parents that had delayed the girl's baptism. Asked what the argument was about, Stocks said, "I would like to know that myself."
Smith's contempt order says Stocks demonstrated "very erratic, bizarre conduct" during her relationship with Schaaf and after the birth of her daughter, "including poor decision-making and an inability to cooperate."
According to filings, Stocks and her attorney, Nadia Margherio of Charlotte, told Smith that Stocks had not violated his order because both parents agreed that their child would be baptized, and Smith's order had not included "a clear directive" requiring one parent to notify the other about a christening. Margherio also said Stocks did not fully understand when the custody order went into effect.
Smith was not swayed. His contempt order included snippets from the court transcript of the Aug. 26, 2016, custody hearing in which he asked Stocks repeatedly if she understood his ruling. She said she did, and then intentionally disobeyed it, the judge ruled.
Stocks said the baptism, which took place at St. Peter's Catholic Church in Charlotte, had been planned for months. She said her cousin Rebecca from Pennsylvania served as godmother. She listed Schaaf's brother as the godfather. Court records say the brother did not attend because nobody told him the ceremony was taking place.
Asked why Schaaf and his family were not on hand for the ceremony, Stocks said to ask Schaaf. "I'm not sure why he did not know or doesn't remember," she said
Feit offered an answer.
"He did not know because nobody told him," he said.
Given that the couple had spent the day before the ceremony in a courtroom discussing spiritual decisions relating to their child, Feit said. "One would think that you would have the sense to say, 'Oh, by the way, I've scheduled a secret baptism and it's tomorrow, and you might want to know about it.' "