If you were married to a person who is of a different faith than you, the holidays, particularly after a divorce, may be difficult. Most judges will not address the issue of faith with parents unless there is a specific issue. Those who are particularly worried about their children’s upbringing may petition the court for an order, but that is no guarantee that they will get one due to the fact that this is such a difficult area for anyone to enforce. Therefore, it is unlikely that you will have anything written into your agreement regarding the religious training your children will receive unless you make a special point of addressing this issue.
This “hands-off” approach to religion helps protect the rights of both parents, but it can mean dissension between the former partners if they both have strong religious feelings and want the children raised in a particular faith. At no time is this usually more apparent than at the holidays, when religious celebrations are often part of the festivities.
The Men’s Legal Center has helped many men obtain divorces and settle child custody and support issues. Now, the Men’s Legal Center offers some advice on dealing with different religions during your divorce, especially over the holidays.
What Are My Legal Rights Regarding My Children’s Religion?
Unfortunately, this is an area of the law in which there is a great deal of gray area. There have been a variety of legal decisions that have impacted parents’ rights concerning their children’s religious upbringing, but few of them have even established a consensus of opinion.
As a very general rule, the following is true:
- Courts will use the “actual or substantial harm” test. If the exercise of a parent’s First Amendment rights will cause actual or substantial harm to the child, the court may rule that the parent cannot subject the children to that practice.
- Courts will use the “risk of harm” rule. The court may determine that the practice of a parent’s First Amendment right to freedom of religion may cause future harm to the child and restrict this practice.
- Courts will defer to the custodial parent. If one parent has sole custody of the child, that parent’s religious wishes will usually prevail.
How Can I Ensure My Right To Celebrate The Holidays With My Children?
The Men’s Legal Center can help you address the issue of religious celebrations as part of your divorce. Contact us today for help with this and other divorce and custody issues.