A Family Lawyer Handles Custody Disputes and Conflict Over Religious Upbringing

As a family lawyer, we have to deal with many thorny and personal issues that couples face when getting a divorce. Divorces are painful and deeply personal affairs, and the intrusion of the law into the personal lives of the parties is often seen as intrusive. This is never more apparent as when children are involved.  In a divorce the courts take a stance on which parent should raise the children, where the children will go to school, and even which parent will make all non-emergency medical decisions for the children. Essentially the courts can virtually cut the non-custodial parent out of all important decision making.  This is why, if you have children, it is critical that you hire a lawyer to help protect your rights.One aspect of custody that is frequently disputed in a divorce is the child or children’s religious upbringing. As more people of different faith marry, and have children, there can be an automatic disagreement on how the child should be raised, and this can get intense when it comes to religious preference. As such, courts have tried their best to find a fair solution that is in the best interest of the children, but there is no set national standard and the rules change from state to state.Raising a child to follow the parent’s religion is a fundamental, constitutionally guaranteed right which creates a slightly thorny problem for the courts. As a family lawyer, we work to protect our clients’ rights while understanding how the law is typically applied in these kinds of cases. Typically judges will apply one of the following standards when deciding whose religion the children will follow: •    Actual or substantive harm: The court is required to seek out what is in the best interest of the child. As such, if the court finds that the religious practices of one parent could cause the child to experience substantive or actual harm, it will restrict the parent’s first amendment rights and give the other parent the sole right to determine the child or children’s religious upbringing. •    Risk of harm standard: When the court chooses to follow this standard it will examine if there is any risk to the child by following one parent’s religious practices. If the court finds that there is indeed a risk of harm, to the child, by following the parent’s religion it will restrict the parent’s first amendment rights in relation to involving the children in those potentially harmful practices. •    No harm standard: If it’s clear to the court that neither parent’s religious practices can cause actual or substantive harm to the child, nor do they place the child at risk for harm, the court will follow the no harm standard. Under this standard, the court will simply grant the custodial parent the right to choose what religion the child will follow. If the custodial parent and the non-custodial parent have different wishes for the religious upbringing of the child, the court will side with the custodial parent.The best way to avoid a judge deciding who will be responsible for a child’s religious upbringing is to attempt to agree outside of court and have a family lawyer draft an agreement.  This agreement can list out, in detail, what religious practices a child is exposed to and the involvement that each parent will have.

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