Can the Court Dictate my Child’s Religion?

Why the courts leave your child's religious practices off the parenting plan. 

In today’s modern world, people of differing religions may marry each other and raise their children according to whatever specific religious preference they choose. However, when these two individuals divorce, conflicts may arise regarding what religion the children are exposed to after separation. I have also experienced cases where one parent re-marries and decides to follow a completely different religion of the other parent after re-marrying.

What happens if you do not agree with your ex-spouse exposing your children to a new religion? Can the court do anything about it? A recent Fourth District Court of Appeals case dealt with this issue. In Steinman v. Steinman, one parent practiced an Orthodox Jewish faith and the other parent practiced a Reform Jewish faith. The parents could not agree about which faith the children should be practicing. The trial court entered an order directing both parent that the children shall be raised under Reform Judaism unless they can agree otherwise. The appellate court found that the trial court overstepped its bounds and reversed the trial court’s ruling.

In general, parents are to practice shared parental responsibility and should make decisions together regarding the minor children, including religious decisions. But, if they are unable to decide on the children’s religious upbringing, a court will not step in unless the religious activity is harmful to the children in some way. The Fourth District Court of Appeals stated the following:

A trial court cannot preclude the custodial parent of one religious faith from actively influencing the training of the child inconsistently with the different religious faith of the other parent, and require the custodial parent to raise the child in the other parent's faith and cooperate with the other parent in effecting the result. We explained that courts have consistently overturned restrictions preventing one parent from exposing a child to his or her religious beliefs and practices unless there is an affirmative showing that the religious activity is harmful to the child. Allowing a court to choose one parent's religious beliefs and practices over another's, in the absence of a clear showing of harm to the child, would violate the first amendment. Additionally, that evidence a child is confused about conflicting religious beliefs is not a sufficient showing of harm to interfere with a parent's religious freedom. Even if the parties agreed to raise the children in a particular religion, most legal authority is against enforcement of such agreements.

In conclusion, a trial court may not dictate what religion your children are exposed to while they are minors. The only exception is when the religious practice is directly harming the minor child in some fashion. (An example of this would more than likely be where a parent refuses necessary medical treatment for a child based upon religious beliefs).

If you have any questions related to parenting plans, or require legal assistance in other areas of Family Law, you may always contact Damien McKinney of The McKinney Law Group to discuss your case further. He can be reached by phone at 813-428-3400 or by e-mail at contact@themckinneylawgroup.com.

Damien McKinney

The McKinney Law Group, 1105 West Swann Avenue, Tampa, FL, 33606, United States

Damien has practiced in of all aspects of marital and family law for his entire career and offers a rare commodity, a lawyer dedicated solely to his area of practice.