It isn’t unusual for interfaith marriages to happen these days — and it isn’t unusual for one or both spouses to turn back to their religious roots during a difficult time (like divorce).
However, that can create all sorts of unintentional conflicts over the children. If the kids were once raised “interfaith” or generally kept to the secular world, one parent may not see the other parent’s newly discovered religious devotion as a good thing — especially if the more religious parent wants to involve the children in his or her faith.
Wait — isn’t it every parent’s right to involve his or her child in the parent’s religion?
Not exactly. There’s no one standard that’s followed on a national level, but courts can (and do) restrict parents from raising their children in their current or former religion for a number of reasons:
- The children are old enough to express an opinion and are not interested in attending the religious services or don’t have the same belief systems.
- The parent with primary physical custody may simply have the legal say-so over the religion the children follow, per your custody agreement and the law.
- There may be an existing agreement in the divorce to continue raising the children in a specific religious tradition. For example, the divorce may state that the children will be raised in the mother’s Jewish tradition — which is how things were done when you were married. Objecting now that you’re divorced probably won’t gain much traction with the court.
- The court decides that exposing the children to their parent’s religion creates a risk of harm to your child. The risk could be physical or emotional. For example, if your religion forbids modern medical care and you have a child with asthma, the judge is likely to side against you.
- The court decides that the exposure to the religion is creating actual harm to your child. For example, if your religion says that anyone who doesn’t follow certain rules will be damned for eternity and that includes their other parent, that can be psychologically damaging to your children.
It’s important to address interfaith issues during the divorce — otherwise you may find yourself back in court again very shortly.
Source: FindLaw, “Divorce: Child Custody and Religion,” accessed Sep. 20, 2017