RELIGION FOR CHILDREN AFTER DIVORCE
An increasing number of couples in the United States are comprised of people
of different faiths. Divorces involving interfaith marriages can be particularly
contentious or messy when child custody is involved. It is not uncommon
for the divorcing couple to have major disagreements about the child’s
religious upbringing and how it should be conducted following the divorce.
New Jersey courts have made it clear that religion is a “major”
decision, within the meaning of child custody laws. This means that if
the parents cannot come to an agreement on which religion the child will
be raised in, then the primary custodian will make the decision. However,
even though the primary parent is typically allowed to make the final
decision, this decision will not always be imposed on the non-custodial
parent’s time with the children. For example, in
(Ch. Div. 1986), the mother was Orthodox Jewish and the father was not.
The mother was the primary parent, and sought to have the father ordered
to follow Orthodox Jewish dietary rules during his parenting time. The
appellate court declined to require the father to do so.
Many couples talk about religion and their children far before a divorce
is ever contemplated, and sometimes even before marriage. It’s quite
common for couples to verbally agree that their future children will be
raised in one faith or another. When divorcing, the non-custodial parent
will sometimes seek to enforce this verbal agreement. It’s not impossible
or out of the question that a judge will enforce such an oral agreement,
but it is not likely. For one thing, these agreements are often quite
vague. Spouses may choose a religion, but will not have discussed exactly
the denomination, the frequency of attending services, or the intensity
of religious training. Additionally, when the court is called on to make
such a determination, the analysis is always focused on the best interests
of the child.
It is important to note, though, that if the parties come to an agreement
during their divorce negotiations about the child’s religious upbringing,
then that agreement will be enforceable in the future so long as it is
properly included in the written settlement agreement.
If you are facing a divorce and a disagreement over your child’s
religion, contact us today at (732) 479-4711 We can help you navigate
this delicate topic.