Child Custody and Religious Upbringing

Religion is a contested topic in many divorces, specifically when there are minor children in the picture. When a custody dispute involves religion, the judges in Bucks County, PA will always put the child’s interest first.

Who decides on matters of religious upbringing in child custody agreements? How do you approach balancing religious beliefs in co-parenting? Let’s talk about religion and how it impacts child custody. 

Can My Spouse Stop Me From Raising My Kids in My Faith?

Religious freedom is a constitutional right; generally, a parent’s religion won’t sway courts when deciding on custody arrangements. However, there may be exceptions if a parent’s religious practices cause direct harm to a child.

If Bob, who is Christian, divorces Karen, who is Jewish, he probably won’t be able to stop Karen from taking the kids to the synagogue on the High Holy Days. Similarly, Karen can’t stop Bob from attending Christmas service with the children while they spend the holidays with him. 

However, courts will also consider the status quo beyond child custody and freedom of religion. For example, if Bob and Karen’s children previously attended Hebrew school, Bob probably wouldn’t be able to pull them out after the divorce if Karen wants them to remain enrolled.

In discussing religion and how it impacts child custody, it’s important to distinguish between physical and legal custody. Parents typically share legal custody equally, regardless of who has the larger share of physical custody.

Thus, even if the children spend more time with one parent, the other parent has an equal say in the children’s religious upbringing. However, if one parent has sole legal custody, they’ll be responsible for all the major decisions in raising the child, including religious education. 

Don’t Weaponize Religion 

Whatever you do, never use religion to undermine your co-parent or alienate your children from them. You should always show your children that you respect their other parent’s religious beliefs.

For example, it isn’t acceptable to engage in emotional blackmail to pressure a child into religious practices (“I won’t consider you my child anymore if you refuse to go to church with me”). Comments like “Your mom is going to hell because she walked out of our faith” are also extremely hurtful and traumatizing for children.

Make a Parenting Plan

Respecting religious differences in child custody cases makes life much easier for both sides. We encourage you to sit down with your co-parent and negotiate a parenting plan that suits everyone, especially for sensitive times like holidays. A professional mediator can help bridge your differences if you can’t work out a plan on your own.

Karen Ann Ulmer, P.C.: Helping You Navigate Custody and Parenting Plans in PA and NJ

Are you unsure about how your child custody arrangement will impact the religious upbringing of your children? Contact our law firm for reliable counsel on protecting your rights in divorce. We can also help you reduce stress and conflict by collaborative mediation for religious disputes in child custody.  

Call us at (866) 349-4907 or book a consultation online.