Religion is a deeply personal decision and one that can impact the daily life of a family. Parents typically will make decisions together about religion and how that religion will impact their parenting techniques. When a relationship falls apart and parties are facing divorce or separation, the issue of custody is often at the very center of the ensuing court battle. Religion can become a topic of concern in the case, if the parents do not agree.
In the vast majority of cases, parents will be awarded joint legal custody over their children. While physical custody refers to the amount of time a child spends in the care of each parent, legal custody refers to decision-making authority with respect to major choices. These major choices include areas such as non-emergency health care, education, and religion. Joint legal custody with respect to religion means that parents need to cooperate and coordinate their efforts when it comes to the child’s religious upbringing. Note that this does not mean that the parents must agree on all religious issues. In fact, if the parents have joint religious decision-making authority, each parent is free to teach the child their own religious beliefs during their respective parenting times. Some parents become concerned that a child will become confused about the conflicting messages, which is why parents need to make sure they work together closely on this issue.
It is possible for a parent to request the court to grant sole decision-making authority with respect to religion. A court is free to consider many issues when trying to determine if one parent is better suited to make all religious decisions. If the parents have historically agreed to raise the child solely in one religion before the divorce or separation and suddenly one parent is wanting to make a drastic change, the court will take that into account. Moreover, if the chosen religion of one parent could have substantial negative impact on the child, this would be important for the court to consider. Note that this type of negative impact would not, for example, simply be because one parent disagrees with particular religious doctrine. It would be more like, for example, if the religion encouraged a child to seek no education and alienate the non-religious parent.
Issues of religion and custody can be sensitive and complex. Call us today at (651) 371-9117 and we can discuss your children and what we can do to help you achieve your goals with respect to their religious upbringing.