Sharing custody of your minor children with your former spouse or partner can be a challenging task in and of itself. Accommodating both parents’ work schedules around the children’s schedules and keeping the children’s best interests paramount – even if there are bitter feelings between you and your ex is not always easy.
Things can be even more complicated when you and your ex do not share the same religious beliefs. With interfaith marriages and divorce rates on the rise, a popular question arising in family law courtrooms today is what religion should my child be raised with?
There is no simple answer to the question, and the matter is really one of balancing competing interests and fundamental rights. On the one hand, courts must respect each parent’s First Amendment right to the free exercise of religion as well as the right to raise their own children as they see fit (so long as the child’s welfare is not endangered). On the other hand, courts must order and/or approve of custody and visitation schedules that are in the best interests of the minor child involved.
Thus, in many contentious custody battles between parents of different faiths, one parent typically claims that the other parent’s exercise of religion is not in the child’s best interest. It is then up to the court to decide whether or not the religious practice(s) at issue are actually in conflict with the child’s best interest. Typically, this requires a showing of actual, substantial harm to the child’s wellbeing or a probable risk of harm. In most cases, absent abusive physical or verbal conduct directed towards the child, a court will not find a parent’s free exercise of religion against the best interests of the child.
For example, most courts have found that merely exposing a child to the beliefs, rituals and scriptures of different faiths does not cause or pose the risk of causing harm to a child. Similarly, restricting a child’s social interactions for the purposes of prayer or in conformity with specific religious tenets does not pose harm to the child.
So what can you do to alleviate drama and share custody of your child when you and your ex have different religious beliefs? The answer is simple – have mutual respect and understanding about the issue with your ex, and listen to your child when he or she is old enough to make informed decisions about what they want to believe (or not believe) in.
If Christmas is important to your ex but Chanukah is important to you, work out a custody arrangement that allows your ex to be with your child on Christmas and you get to spend Chanukah (or some nights of Chanukah) with your child. As with most issues having to do with custody and visitation, open communication and mutual respect can go a long way in sharing custody with an ex who does not share your own religious beliefs.
If you are dealing with issues surrounding child custody or a visitation case, regardless of whether religion is involved, you need the help of a qualified family law attorney who knows the law in your jurisdiction. Whether you are seeking to obtain custody/visitation or to prevent it, consult with an experienced attorney as soon as possible. The custody lawyers at DiPietro Family Law Group have years of experience handling custody and visitation cases in jurisdictions across Northern Virginia and Washington, DC. Contact us to schedule a consultation today at (888) 530-4374.