Religion can always be a sensitive topic in any discourse but can cause conflict in a divorce proceeding. Many parents fear that a child may be brought up in one parent’s religion without the other’s consent.
Generally, the court won’t be swayed by either parent’s religious persuasions, but its decision would usually fall under the court’s custody decisions and the overall child’s well being. The child’s well-being is paramount to the court, and that is what they weigh when determining most aspects of custody.
For example, if a child is being raised in a specific community that enhances and nurtures the child, the court may have no issue with it. However, there are cases that the religious belief may be violent, abusive, or restrictive to the child, and the court may want to limit this exposure.
The Constitution gives citizens the right to their beliefs and the right to practice them freely. The courts in Indiana (like all states) hold to this right, and unless there is actual proof that a particular religious belief is harming the child, they usually will not interfere. Even mild restrictions, such as dress codes, dietary codes, etc. are not enough to have the court intervene. The courts have determined that having a child exposed to two religious beliefs is generally not harmful to the child. This is especially true of more mainstream religions, and eventually, the child may decide which they wish to follow.
Religion is a complex topic in a divorce proceeding. Your family law attorney will be invaluable in guiding you through the various options using the dispute’s specific details. If you believe there is any possible harm to the child by following your ex’s belief system, your attorney will know how best to approach this and help you and your child.
What If my Ex and I Cannot Agree on our Child’s Religious Affiliation?
The parents usually make significant decisions in a divorce case, including education, non-emergency medical decisions, and religious upbringing, with a specific parenting plan. These issues are usually left to the parents in most states. Regarding these decisions, the court’s only concern is the well being of the child. If that is, in any way, jeopardized, the court will intervene. Guidance from a lawyer with experience in conflict resolution will be beneficial from the very beginning of the divorce process.
When it comes to religious upbringing, the court must consider a parent’s rights under the Constitution. A judge cannot force you to allow your child to convert to a new religion or participate in a new religion’s sacraments, as freedom of religion is a basic tenant of the Constitution. If either parent has a deep belief in their faith, they have the inalienable right to bring up their child in that religion. Again, if and only if it is not proven to be harmful to the child.
Overall, the Indiana court will always look at what’s in the child’s best interests when deciding custody, living conditions, and anything that may negatively affect the child’s life. Religious beliefs, however have the added complexity of being protected by the Constitution.
When determining issues affecting the child’s best interest, some of the aspects the judge will look at are as follows:
- The overall interaction and interrelationship of the child with the child’s parents, siblings, and any other person who may significantly affect the child’s best interests
- The child’s adjustment to home, school, and community
- Each parent’s physical and mental health
- The child’s age and general health
- Any evidence of a pattern of domestic or family violence by either parent
- The child’s wishes, particularly if the child is at least 14 years old, and is capable of having a say in their belief and feelings.
If you are having difficulties trying to negotiate with your ex on any issues involving child custody, your attorney will know how to best approach this subject. Being that this question involves rights protected by the Constitution, your family lawyer needs to have a unique approach to your needs. It is a complex issue, but of the highest importance to some parents.
Are Their Laws in Place that Set Precedence for Issues Like the Religion of a Child?
The United States Supreme Court case of Pierce v. Society of Sisters established the principle that parents have the right to direct the religious upbringing of their children. Parents’ liberty interest in directing their child’s religious upbringing can also be found in the Fourteenth Amendment substantive due process clause.
Other than the Constitutional rights granted to the parents, the courts of most states follow a few basic guidelines.
- Using the substantial harm standard, a court will only prevent a parent from exercising their First Amendment right to raise their child under the religion of their choosing if their religious practices harm the child.
- A court may render a decision involving the religion of a child using the no-harm standard. Under this standard, a court will allow the custodial parent to decide the religion of the child and does not always consider actual or potential harm to the child.
Your attorney should offer individualized care for the complex issue of your child’s religion. Discuss the details of your case and your concerns fully with your lawyer, as the court system, and the hopefully both parents, only should focus on what’s best for the children.