Child Custody Cases and Religion

The divorce proceedings between Katie Holmes and Tom Cruise have brought religious differences in a marriage to the forefront.  Katie was raised as a Catholic and Tom belongs to the Church of Scientology.  While reading articles about the couple’s divorce, some writers hint at, or come right out and say, that the controversial Church of Scientology was the primary cause of the breakup.

Whether or not this is true, religion is one of the factors taken into account in determining child custody.  Religion can, and often does, become an issue when a couple divorces and they have different religious beliefs.  Each parent will, of course, desire that his child be raised in the faith he has chosen to follow.

In most cases, the parent with primary custody determines the major life choices in the child’s life, which includes religion,  until the child is old enough by law to make these decisions by himself.  The child then can decide which religion, if any, he will follow.  However, even though a child is being raised in the faith of the primary custody parent, it does not mean his other parent cannot expose the child to his religion, too.

American courts try to stay out of the everyday child rearing decisions, as by law, they are forbidden from interfering with religious freedoms or to show preference of one religion over another.  When a divorcing couple is creating their parenting plan, courts prefer the parents determine the child’s religious upbringing then.  If parents, however, cannot reach a decision, the court will determine what is best for the child.  The court looks at the welfare of the child, the wishes of the child – if the child is old enough to express an informed opinion – actual or possible harm to the child, and the child’s educational, medical, emotional and physical needs.

A state can, in extreme cases when it feels the exposure has or will clearly have a negative effect on the child’s safety, health or general welfare, regulate a child’s exposure to conflicting religions.

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