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Who Gets Religious Custody?

Among the many issues that come between divorced parents, none causes more passionate argument than religion. Disputes between former marriage partners fighting over the right to determine their child’s religion are flooding the media.

One Chicago family’s custody battle made headlines in 2011 when the mother, who is Jewish, sued the father, who is Catholic, for full physical custody of their son. During the marriage, the parents had agreed to raise their son as a Jew. After their divorce, the mother married an Orthodox Jew and now conducts herself in a more religious fashion. The father, who gives his son non-kosher food, says that he respects his son’s Jewish upbringing, but does not believe he is obligated to follow the stringencies of orthodoxy, which were not part of their original agreement.

This case illustrates the difficulties of adhering to an agreement created prior to or during a marriage because the agreement loses its relevance upon divorce. When it comes to religion, an agreement can be problematic to enforce for the following reasons:

  • A parent who converted for marriage may revert to the previous religion.
  • The custodial parent may relocate to a place where parochial education is unavailable.
  • One parent may remarry, and the religious environment of the home changes.
  • The child may perceive that religious differences caused the divorce and become uncomfortable with the practice.

Children naturally feel loyal to both parents, and when the parents practice different religions, the child may feel that the practice of one religion is equivalent to choosing one parent over the other. This situation can be exacerbated if the parents disparage one another pertaining to religious practice or interrogate the child regarding the religious practice of the other parent. Placing children in the position of needing to compromise a part of their identities to please one parent is very confusing and stressful and can lead to depression and anxiety.

All parents have rights regarding their child-rearing decisions. Ultimately, if one parent’s right to educate a child about a religion is deemed not to be in that child’s best interest, the right can be overruled by a court order. If you have questions about your parental rights, contact a family law attorney in the Chicago area who can advocate for you in your custody battle or any divorce-related issue.

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