How courts deal with disputes over religion involving kids

On behalf of Stange Law Firm, PC posted in Child Custody on Saturday, April 8, 2017.

Easter weekend is very important for some families, but its significance should not be diminished if one parent does not want to attend church or other religious services. Religion (or participation in religious ceremonies) can be a very difficult subject between divorcing and separated couples. Parents may feel very strongly about including (or not including) their children in religious events and may be quick to seek court intervention to get their way. This post will examine the difficulties courts may have in adjudicating these issues.

Questions about religious inclusion arise under the framework of legal custody. When a parent is awarded this form of custody, there are empowered to make decisions about important aspects of a child’s life, including medical treatment, choice of school and religious upbringing, to name a few. When disputes arise about religion, a family court judge must balance a parent’s First Amendment right to practice their religion against the child’s best interests.

A judge will determine if the children will suffer emotional harm by participating (or not participating) in the religious event. The harm must not simply be grounded in a parent’s personal preference. Instead, very specific and pervasive harms suffered by the child must be documented by a custody evaluator or GAL.

Ultimately, parents must realize that judges expect them to expose children to both religions (if two are at issue) to the greatest extent possible because such exposure is more likely to further the child’s best interests and allow both parents play an active role in the child’s life.

If you have questions about a parent’s interference in a child’s religious education, an experienced family law attorney can help.

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