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Religious Disagreement and Child Custody


The tension between religion and parenting is an issue that can create a large gulf between spouses who cannot agree. Religion is one of those pivotal issues that can bring people together or drive them apart. When parents separate or divorce and cannot agree on the religious upbringing of their child, the opportunity for prolonged conflict is high. Courts are commonly asked to resolve such disagreements, which is a tricky situation due to the competing interests of religious freedom, parental authority, and the best interests of the child. Florida law favors giving parents shared responsibility for the care and upbringing of a child, and only deviates from this standard if the child’s welfare would be threatened by this arrangement. Courts are given wide discretion to ascertain which type of custody arrangement would be optimal for the child, and how religion would play into the child’s best interests will vary by case. Thus, it is hard to predict how a court would rule over one parent’s authority about religion as opposed to the other. However, there is a general process a court employs whenever assessing child custody matters, as well as parameters for deciding the issue of religion specifically. A discussion of how courts analyze these often contradicting and passionate issues will follow below.

Best Interests of the Child

Parental authority is seen as fundamental to the right to raise one’s child as he/she sees fit, and looking at the best interests of the child inherently restricts this right to a greater or lesser extent. While each case varies, the law is clear that a judge should examine a list of factors to determine what is best. The relevance and weight of each factor will depend upon the circumstances of the case and discretion of the judge, but an experienced divorce attorney should be able to give a reasoned prediction as to how a particular court is likely to rule. Some factors that most often come into play in any child custody determination include:

  • the ability of each parent to encourage a close and frequent relationship with the other parent, follow the time-sharing schedule, and adapt to changes as necessary;
  • the likely division of parental responsibility post-divorce, and how much childcare will be delegated to a third party;
  • the ability of each parent to put the child’s needs first;
  • the amount of time a child has lived in a stable environment;
  • the moral fitness of each parent;
  • the physical and mental health of each parent;
  • the geographic viability of the parenting plan;
  • the capacity of each parent to provide the child a stable routine; and
  • the willingness of each parent to keep the other informed about the child’s activities and other issues and to present a united front on key matters.

Impact of Religion

When it comes to matters of religion, and what to do if parents have competing belief systems, it is important to note that unlike some other States, religion is not an issue that is directly included as relevant to the child’s best interests. Because religion is not a specific statutory factor, courts will only find this issue to be relevant if religious activities are likely to harm the child. Further, the harm must be actual or substantial before a court will consider restricting a parent’s right to freedom of religious practice. Thus, exposing a child to two religions is of no concern to the court, but if religious beliefs promote taking the child away from the other parent, for example, a court is more likely to swing custody arrangements in favor of the parent with a more accepting practice.

Contact an Orlando Child Custody Lawyer

Few things are more challenging than sharing custody of a child, but when mixed with religion, the challenge can easily escalate. The Orlando attorneys at the Donna Hung Law Group understand the concerns and frustrations of child custody battles and have the tools to facilitate an amicable solution, which often leads to superior results compared with court interventions. Contact the law office today at (407) 999-0099 for confidential consultation.