Who Decides The Child’s Religious Upbringing?

In a divorce or child custody dispute, one of the areas that must be decided is “what religion the child will be raised in”.  Most of time, the parents will agree that the child will be raised in a particular religion.  However, there are instances where there is a dispute about the religious upbringing or a dispute regarding religion may occur years after the divorce.

As with every custody dispute, the court starts with the “best interests of the child” standard.  The court, cannot impose its own religious preference on a child, it must decide this issue based on the best interests standard.

If the child is already being raised in one religion, and now there is a dispute, the court may lean towards keeping the child raised in the religion that it was initially raised in.  Yet, this is not an absolute, and is only one factor.

What happens, if the parties had previously agreed to raise the child in a particular religion, but, now one party wants to change the child’s religion?  A recent court case states that the provision of a specific religious upbringing within a custody agreement will be enforced, but only to the extent that it remains consistent with the best interests of the child.  In other words, it is improper to only consider the previous custody agreement.  Instead, the court must consider what is the best interests of the child at the present time, which may not necessarily be what the custody agreement states it should be.

What happens if a parent strictly observes their particular religion, which may impose dietary restrictions or other restrictions on the child?  If that parent is given decision-making authority with regards to religion, then it will be appropriate for that parent to impose those restrictions on the child while the child is with that parent. 

However, the court will not force the other parent to impose those religious restrictions, on the child, while the child is with that other parent.  The court will state that this other parent should “make reasonable efforts” to ensure that the child’s religious restrictions are met.

As with most custody issues, there is no definitive answers as to how a court will rule when it comes to religious upbringing.  The only constant, is that the court is to always start with the “best interests of the child” standard. 

David Badanes and the Badanes Law Office, P.C., have represented countless clients in their divorce.  David Badanes provides real world and legal advice.  If you are thinking of getting divorced, please contact David Badanes and the Badanes Law Office, P.C.  David Badanes and the Badanes Law Office’s phone number is 631-239-1702, email at david@dbnylaw.com or visit our web site: www.dbnylaw.com.  The Badanes Law Office has offices in Northport and Uniondale.

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