Whether you are a Christian, Jew, Muslim, or member of another faith group, it goes without saying that the practice of your faith is central to your life.
This is one of the rights that we as Americans have: to be able to practice your particular faith in whatever manner you choose (Assuming that in practicing your faith, you are not infringing upon the rights and liberties of others to live their lives freely). As such, your marriage was likely an event with some degree of religious importance, and your divorce may be as well.
If you married a person whose faith is different than yours, that may have presented problems during the marriage and may have even led to you and your spouse getting a divorce.
Having children was a true blessing, but now that you are divorced, both you and your spouse are free to participate in religious events with your child during your periods of possession. How you and your ex-spouse decide upon which religion your child should ultimately follow and be very difficult and often leads to a whole new level of fighting.
In older times, people of different religious beliefs did not marry with the regularity that other faiths do in today's world. When two spouses share the same religious beliefs, having a child is not a problem because that child will be raised in a cohesive spiritual environment. Now you and your spouse are left with the issue of directing your child's religious upbringing as divorced parents.
Suppose for a moment that you and your spouse are each concerned with the other's religious practices and do not want the other to be able to encourage your child to participate in the other's faith traditions.
How can a court decide this if you and your spouse cannot agree on the subject before a trial? The Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC, would like to take an opportunity to discuss this topic in today's blog post.
What is in the best interests of your child?
In other words, what is more, important to a family court judge: your right as a parent to instill religious beliefs and practices in your child or the best interests of your child? Overall, a judge is sure to be swayed by what is in the best interests of your child.
After all, your child often does not have a vote in matters that concern them, even ones as important as choosing a religious faith to practice. If you and your spouse cannot agree to allow one another to practice your beliefs with your child, then you are asking a judge to intervene. When you do so, you leave yourself susceptible to having a judge make a decision that may go against you.
What if your religious heritage poses a risk to the safety and well-being of your child- at least in the opinion of your spouse? Do your first amendment rights to freedom of religion trump the well-being of your child?
That is the type of argument that you can expect to hear from your spouse in a trial situation if you all cannot come together and settle these issues in mediation or negotiation between your attorneys.
How will a court in Texas view a case that involves child custody and religion?
I do not have a definite response to how your specific family law judge would view a situation like this. Different judges will approach this issue based on their opinions and biases. In large part, the circumstances and evidence presented in your case will make the ultimate difference.
Has there been any actual or substantial harm done to your child due to the religious practices of your faith or that of your spouse? Have you encouraged your spiritual practices despite the damage suffered by your child? If you have done so, the judge may rule that you cannot continue practicing your faith with your child after the divorce.
A court may take an even more conservative approach to this subject and employ a standard that details whether or not the practice of your faith has increased the risk of harm to your child in some way.
Therefore, your spouse would not even have to present evidence that the practice of your faith has directly harmed your child. All that would be necessary is showing that there has been a risk of harm in the child's life due to practicing your religious traditions.
Finally, a judge could rule that whichever parent is designated as the primary conservator of your child can select the religious faith of your child, if any is chosen at all.
More than likely, a judge would allow both you and your spouse to exercise your own religious beliefs with your child when they are in your possession. Situations that involve harm to your child do not occur with any degree of regularity when practicing religion, so there should be no impediment to the free exercise of faith with your child during your time with that child.
An example of how standards of religious practice can be applied to your situation
Consider for a moment the "risk of harm" standard that we outlined in the previous section. As the father of your child, Suppose that you wanted to stop your ex-spouse from changing your child's faith. Back when you and your spouse first married, you all agreed to raise your child in Judaism- your faith and the faith of your side of the family.
Fast forward several years, and you and your spouse are now getting a divorce. Now that your divorce is done and over with, your ex-spouse has started taking your daughter to a Christian church when your daughter is with her. You are not in agreement with this decision by your ex-wife, and you have gone to court and asked the judge to modify your Divorce Decree to give you the sole ability to determine the religious practices of your daughter.
The risk of harm standard plays into this situation if and when your court determines that your daughter has been a Jewish girl since she was old enough to practice the teachings of Judaism. A sudden change in her religious practices could cause emotional harm. As a result, your court would agree with you and grant your request to have the final say in any determinations of what religion your child is to practice in the future.
Work together with your spouse if at all possible
If you can, work with your spouse to determine a middle ground (if any) in this situation. It is a complex request to make for a judge to decide between one parent's religion over the other parent's.
Your right to practice your religious faith and your right to encourage your child to do the same is a big part of what makes us Americans. However, once you involve in the family law courts, you sacrifice many of your rights to obtain decisions from judges on subjects like custody and conservatorship.
One of the more fundamental rights you can have as a parent is to share your faith with your child. In some circumstances, a divorce can complicate this. If you believe that you are in a position where your faith may be an issue in your divorce, please do not hesitate to contact our office.
Questions about religion and divorce? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC
The attorneys with the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC, believe in representing our clients to the fullest extent possible. If you find yourself with questions about this or any other subject in family law, please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC. We offer free of charge consultations with licensed family law attorneys six days a week to answer your questions and address your concerns.
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Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC | Houston, Texas Divorce Lawyers
The Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC, routinely handles matters that affect children and families. If you have questions regarding divorce, it's essential to speak with one of our Houston, TX, Divorce Lawyers right away to protect your rights.
Our divorce lawyers in Houston, TX, are skilled at listening to your goals during this trying process and developing a strategy to meet those goals. Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC by calling (281) 810-9760 or submit your contact information in our online form. The Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC, handles Divorce cases in Houston, Texas, Cypress, Klein, Humble, Kingwood, Tomball, The Woodlands, Houston, the FM 1960 area, or surrounding areas, including Harris County, Montgomery County, Liberty County, Chambers County, Galveston County, Brazoria County, Fort Bend County, and Waller County.