My Ex and I Have Different Religions: Who Gets to Decide Our Child’s Place of Worship?
During divorce, parents have to determine how they are going to raise their kids going forward. If both parents are safe and appropriate the law favors both parents having joint (shared) custody of their children. Sharing custody means having an equal say regarding several important aspects of a child's life, including their school, medical treatment, and religion. When divorcing parents are of different faiths, it can raise issues about their children’s religion. If you are in this situation, you may be thinking: If my ex and I have different religions, who gets to decide our child's place of worship?
Religion and Custody
Generally speaking, when parents have joint custody, each has equal authority to make decisions regarding their children, including religious practice. Parents can also agree to have joint custody over most issues and that one parent will have exclusive decision-making authority over a particular area. For instance, when parents live in different cities and a child lives with one parent during the school year, it may work better for the school year parent to have primary authority over school-related decisions. In some situations, one parent may have sole or primary custody over all parenting decisions. In that circumstance, that parent will have the authority to make decisions about everything, including the child's religious practice. That being said, most of the time parents have joint custody, and therefore both can decide the religion their child may practice.
Religion and the Best Interest of the Child
When examining whether or not a child should be permitted to participate in religious activities, the court’s primary concern will be how the proposed activity will impact the child’s well-being. The court will examine facts such as the child’s past involvement with their parents’ respective religions. It may be that a child has been a member of a religious congregation for a considerable period of time. In that case, allowing a child to continue attending services and participating in religious activities may offer them stability and support. If a parent wants to introduce their child to a new faith or congregation post-divorce, there may also be an argument that doing so is in their best interest. Additionally, if a child is older, the court may consider the child’s opinion and preferences on the matter.
Arguing that a child should not participate in the other parent's religion simply because it is different from their own is not usually adequate. Ordinarily, when a parent has joint custody of a child, he/she can determine how that child spends their time during their physical placement periods. Therefore, if a child is staying with that parent they may go to the placement parent’s place of worship. There can be certain exceptions, such as when a parent's religious practice may be harmful to a child. For instance, one parent may practice a religion that forbids medical intervention for illness. If the other parent does not subscribe to the same belief, and the child is injured or becomes seriously ill, there could be serious implications if the child is left untreated.
Resolving Religious Differences
If you and your ex practice different religions, you may disagree about how much exposure your child should have to the other's faith. There may also be times when your religion observes certain holidays or has activities you feel are important for your child but could interfere with the other parent's placement time. The way you and your ex refer to one another's religion around your child could also be a point of contention. Ideally, you and your attorney will have anticipated these issues during your divorce and developed terms to address them. If you have conflict after the fact, you should consult with an experienced Wisconsin family law attorney. You and your attorney can review your situation and discuss your options.
If you and your ex are having conflict over how to manage religious issues with your children, you should make an appointment to consult with Attorney and Mediator Karyn Youso of First Look Family Law. Ms. Youso has extensive experience helping clients understand their custodial options and can assist you in determining your next steps. Contact us today and let us take a “first look” at your situation.