In our increasingly multi-cultural society, there are larger numbers of interfaith couples choosing to marry and/or have children together. If these couples later decide to separate, the question may develop of how to navigate or balance between the two religions for the sake of the children. Religion can be a sensitive issue as it is often deeply rooted in a person’s life and their family history.
When it comes to co-parenting, there is no uniform standard in handling religion-based custody questions. In Wisconsin v. Yoder (1972), the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that parents have the right to direct the religious upbringing of their children. Generally, courts proceed with caution when it comes to parents’ constitutional rights to practice religious faiths and teach them to their children. In Georgia, in cases where parents disagree on their children’s religion, one parent is given final decision-making authority on religious decisions but is still required to discuss the issue with the other parent prior to making a decision. However, even though one parent has final decision making on religion, it is highly unlikely that a court will restrict either parent from taking the children to religious services of his or her choice or require the parent to take the children to religious services at all.
Particularly in cases where the parents have significantly different religious beliefs, they should work together to reach an agreement or carefully explain each of their positions to the court and the impact their religious belief has on the children’s lives so that they can have a Parenting Plan detailed enough to prevent future conflict. Some issues to consider include:
- – What religious or moral values the parents want their children to learn
- – How might religion intersect with other final decision-making categories such as education or non-emergency medical decisions
- – Whether the parents will want the children to participate in faith-based activities
- – Whether the parents will want to impose faith-based restrictions such as diet or dress code and whether those will apply in both parents’ homes
- – What holidays or religious traditions the parents want the children to observe
- – How the observation of holidays or events will impact the custody schedule and time spent with other family members
In making these decisions, it is important to be respectful of the other parent’s beliefs. Parents should refrain from criticizing each other’s religions in front of the children or deliberately interfering with the other parent’s religious choices. If the children are being raised in or exposed to multiple religious traditions, the parents should encourage positive experiences with both religions so the children are not put in the middle. Since religions often impose a complex set of beliefs on their followers, parents should work to help children struggling to understand differences in their multiple religion upbringings and help them respect both religions even if they do not agree with them. Parents can also help children notice similarities between their multiple religions that enrich their experiences overall.
If you are facing a disagreement with a former partner over a child’s religious upbringing, or if you have additional questions about your family law case, call Porchlight at (678) 435-9069 or click here to schedule a consultation.