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What can happen when parents disagree over the child's religion?

It isn't unusual for people to turn to their faith in order to get through a time of crisis. When that happens after a divorce and the ex-spouses are of different faiths, the issue of what to do about the religious upbringing of the children can become particularly contentious.

Can you be ordered not to expose your children to your religious beliefs?

For the most part, the answer is "Yes." However, the circumstances of each situation are unique and there are no hard and fast rules that can tell you in advance when that is likely to happen.

What would cause the court to restrict you from sharing your religion with your children?

Generally speaking, the court uses the same standard it uses for everything else involving children: whatever is in their best interest.

The particularly thorny issue, in this case, is that a parent may be convinced that adherence to a particular faith is essential for the child's immortal soul and outweighs any earthly concern. The court, however, has to look at what it can quantify in some way. That means that the court has to look at issues like whether or not the exposure to one parent's religion is causing the children serious anxiety or creating a rift with the other parent.

What is an example of a situation that would cause the court concern?

The issue has to go beyond just "upsetting the child." However, something like teaching the child that the other parent is damned for all eternity for not following the "right" religion could cause the child significant emotional problems and alienate him or her from the other parent.

How can parents avoid this sort of situation?

Experts recommend that you take several steps to navigate a religious divide with your ex-spouse:

-- Focus on exposing the children to your religion, instead of insisting on their indoctrination into it.

-- Express the core values of your beliefs without judging or mentioning the other parent's beliefs.

-- Make room for the other parent's holiday observances, even if you disagree with them.

-- Treat the other parent's religion with respect, the same way that you want your religion to be treated.

If religion is becoming a major issue that's affecting the health of your relationship with your children, consider discussing the issue with an attorney.

Source: Newseum Institute, "Can A Non-Custodial Parent Be Told Not To Expose A Child To A Religion Other Than The Religion Practiced By The Custodial Parent?," accessed March 23, 2017

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