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Does a parent’s religion affect child custody decisions?

 Posted on March 27, 2018 in Child Custody

Even though religious freedom is a cherished constitutional right, disputes between parents over religion can put the issue into play when it comes to a custody fight.

What generally happens is that one parent tells the court that the other parent’s religious pursuits are somehow harmful to the children. At that point, the court is obligated to balance the rights of the parent against the children’s interests.

For example, imagine that a Jewish mother and Christian father had agreed to raise the children in the mother’s faith. After their divorce, however, the father returns to the church of his youth — which has a decidedly evangelical nature. The Sunday sermons — to which the father takes the children during his time with them — preach that all nonChristians are doomed to spend eternity tortured in a flaming pit.

The mother, responding to her children’s alarm that they could end up that way, is naturally upset and takes the issue to court. She may simply ask the judge to bar the father from taking their children to services and preaching to them.

That might be sufficient if that stops the children from being exposed to the negative views of the father’s church toward their (and their mother’s) religion and there are no other issues.

What happens, however, if the father joins a religious community with faith-driven dictates over every aspect of its members’ behavior? What if there is no way for the children to spend time with their father without exposure to criticism of nonbelievers?

At that point, the issue becomes much more difficult because there may be no way to permit the father joint custody without causing the children significant emotional conflicts.

It’s important to note that some courts have held that exposing a child to two faiths doesn’t automatically equate to harming that child. Courts want to know specifically how the children are adversely affected by the exposure in some way. They may also consider whether the children were always exposed to both parents’ religions or had previously been raised in one faith.

Because this is a complex issue, it is almost impossible to know how to present your request — or defense — to a court without legal assistance. If you believe religion is likely to be an issue in your child custody case, make certain that you talk to your attorney right away.

Source:, “Religion and Child Custody,” Debrina Washington, accessed March 27, 2018

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