The incidence of intermarried faiths is higher in recent years than it ever was in the past.
However, divorce rates among these couples are much higher than for most, and these cases can become particularly contentious when there are children involved. Disputes regarding in which faith children should be raised may become especially heated. Sometimes, these conflicts were at the heart of why the marriage crumbled in the first place.
Our Birmingham child custody lawyers know that these cases require a legal team with experience. We recognize the integral role that faith can play in one's life and the critical importance of ensuring a child is brought up the same way.
Settling these issues in divorce court is not always ideal, but sometimes it is the only way.
There is no singular hard-and-fast answer as to how the courts will deal with the issue of conflicting faith among two parents, but it usually comes down to a number of factors including:
- The best interest of the child;
- The child's interests, desires and familiarity with a particular church or religion;
- Whether any harm is being inflicted on the child by being exposed to either or both religions;
- The wishes of the custodial parent.
In case law, we have seen a few examples of how the courts have handled such matters.
In one case, Majorie G. v. Stephen G., the mother practiced reform Judaism while the father practiced conservative Judaism. After the divorce, the mother enrolled the children in a reform Jewish school. However, the father deeply disagreed with this move, and when he couldn't resolve the matter with her, he took it to court, arguing that the children should be placed in a conservative Jewish school. Additionally, he wanted to ensure that the children were observing a traditional Shabbat, even when with their mother.
In the end, the court sided with the mother, on the basis that she was the custodial parent, the children weren't being harmed by their enrollment in the mother's school of choice and the parents didn't have any prior agreement with regard to the children's religious upbringing.
In another case, Romano v. Romano, both parents had been Catholic, but the mother converted to Jehovah's Witness following their divorce. The father responded by seeking custody of the children, saying that the mother's religious conversion was harmful to the children. The court denied the father's custody request, but it did allow that the children should be raised Catholic, as that was the agreement the two parents had prior to the divorce.
To be sure, co-parenting with someone of a different faith can have many challenges, particularly when your faith involves strict dietary restrictions, observations of certain holidays and even codes of dress and behavioral expectations. These issues are exacerbated perhaps more than other conflicts because they are deemed extremely personal and central to one's purpose and being. It's also natural to want to share those traditions with your children.
The best course of action, if you and your spouse are of different faiths, is to have these issues addressed in the divorce agreement in a way that is equitable and also protects your child's well-being and preserves those traditions that are so valuable to you. We can help.
If you are contemplating a divorce in Birmingham, contact Birmingham Family Law Attorney Steven Eversole at (866) 831-5292.
Co-Parenting When Religious Considerations Are Significant, July 9, 2013, By Tara Fass, Huffington Post