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How Does a Divorced Couple Handle Kids’ Religious Upbringings? A Review of Past Cases

The issue of what parent will govern the religious and/or moral upbringing of children after a divorce or separation is an incredibly emotional one. Perhaps correspondingly, courts have varied in deciding which parent gets to make the determination. As a result, there is a myriad of case precedents that courts may use to make this choice in your divorce or separation. Here’s a look into how this issue has been decided in the past, and therefore what you can expect judges to consider in a specific case before them.

Munoz v. Munoz

In this case, the court decided that allowing children to be exposed to two different religions is not inherently harmful to the kids. Essentially, the court declared that while one parent may have more custody than the other, neither can be prohibited from exposing the children to their respective religious beliefs, so long as there’s nothing harmful or injurious about the beliefs themselves.

Pater v. Pater

In this case, the court expanded on the last case, ruling that religious customs (in this case including not celebrating holidays, separating a child from his or her peers, requiring attendance at religious events, and more) will not be declared harmful by courts unless one of the parties can prove that they cause actual physical or mental harm to the child.

Kendall v. Kendall

In this case, the court faced issues of physical acts and even threats. The mother of the child was a member of the Orthodox Jewish faith, while the father was Catholic. After the divorce, the Catholic father allegedly threatened to cut off his son’s religious clothing and faith-mandated hairstyle. The mother presented evidence from a doctor that the father’s threats and expressions of Catholic faith caused mental harm to her son (satisfying the bar set by Pater v. Pater). The court decreed that this proof of harm meant that the father could no longer expose the children to his faith.

MacLagan v. Klein

In this case, the court came to a different conclusion than that of Munoz v. Munoz. When one parent wanted to change the child’s religion, the court concluded that exposing the child to a faith different than the one with which she had identified since the age of three may be harmful. As such, the court sided with the parent who wanted to maintain the child’s established faith.

More Advice

Dealing with issues as emotionally entwined as children’s upbringing and religious development in the course of a divorce or separation can be stressful and straining to existing relationships between both the separating individuals and the children. Consider too the lack of legal consensus on how to handle the issue, and it’s clear that the best way to represent your interests and ensure your rights are protected is to have skilled legal representation. Consider discussing your options by seeking reliable and experienced assistance. Contact an experienced Boca Raton family attorney at Schwartz | White at 561-391-9943 today for a consultation and to learn how we may be of assistance.

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