When Religion and Sharing Custody Collide
Few topics arouse more tension and conflict than religion. Religious beliefs have fomented wars, destroyed countries and displaced countless people across the globe since ancient times. Religion is just one of many child rearing issues divorced parents must handle as part of sharing parenting responsibilities.
Due to the animosity, anger and resentment disagreements that religion tends to produce, Illinois family law provisions specifically address how to divide this responsibility in the hopes of reducing or preventing conflict when this subject arises. Conflict over religion is primarily generated when interfaith couples divorce and fail to clearly articulate and decide each parent’s expectations for the child’s religious upbringing. Regardless of the source, disagreements over religion and raising a child needs resolution, and Courts will establish guidelines if necessary.
Religion is especially a point of contention if one or both parents follow highly regulated belief systems, common among Judaism and Islam, that make compromise extremely difficult. Consider how Illinois Courts view religion in the context of divorce, and ways in which this responsibility may be divided.
Parental Rights vs. Freedom of Religion
Disagreements over a child’s religious upbringing inherently expose the tension often experienced between one’s parental rights and freedom of religion. Parents are assumed to be in the best position to make decisions for their child and to exercise control over who and what the child sees and experiences. This description, in very basic terms, represents the concept of parental rights.
However, the freedom to practice one’s religion is also a fundamental right in this country, and can clash with responsible parenting if a parent’s choice appears to be in contradiction to the child’s best interests. A child’s best interests is always of paramount concern in any divorce or family Court proceeding, and a parent’s religious decisions could be rejected if the decisions are viewed as dangerous or harmful for the child.
Another key component of settling this issue is how well the parents cooperate in any arrangement made privately or issued by a Court. A parent’s inability or unwillingness to abide by the terms in a parenting plan regarding religion could be grounds to restrict or remove decision-making authority, or even restrict parenting time in more serious cases.
Court’s Analysis of Religious Decisions
Parents are encouraged, especially in the area of religion, to form a mutual agreement. This resolution is more likely to work long term. Of course, this option is not always available. Therefore, recognizing the influence of religion on a child’s life, Illinois law has several provisions defining what a religious upbringing includes and how Courts should analyze distributing this responsibility when parents disagree.
First, religious upbringing encompasses more than merely deciding which religious service to attend. Religious upbringing also includes religious schooling, observing religious practices and customs and religious training. Including these additional elements helps to capture those households that do not attend formal religious service, but still adhere to religious teachings in other areas of their life. However, note that a parent’s particular religion cannot be the focus of a child-related decision. Instead, the focus must center on the effect the religion has on the child’s physical, mental, emotional or psychological well being.
To that end, Illinois law directs Courts to look at the following:
- Any expressed or implied agreement between the parents about religion; and
- The past conduct of the parents with regard to religion if no agreement exists.
Allocation of parental responsibilities surrounding religion will not be awarded without either an agreement or history of past conduct. This somewhat hands-off approach to religion and childrearing is a reflection of the personal nature of religion and the high value this country gives to this practice. An experienced family law attorney can assist with assessing the best approach to settle this issue in a reasonable and feasible manner.
Decisions surrounding religion and parenting should be directly addressed if the potential for disagreement exists. Passionate Inverness family law attorney Nicholas W. Richardson understands the sensitivity of child matters and has the tools to help you resolve these issues as amicably and satisfactorily as possible. Contact the law firm for a free initial consultation.