How Courts Handle Religion in Custody Cases
Family law cases can become complex, particularly when religious and spiritual beliefs are involved. Parents have the right to raise their children in the religion of their choice, but children also have the right to freedom of religion. Judges are tasked with determining the child’s best interests while upholding religious freedom.
According to Oregon statute, legal custody grants parents the right and responsibility to make decisions regarding a child’s healthcare, education, and religious training. See ORS 107.169(1). However, the law remains unclear in many aspects of religion and parenting and how religious upbringing should be implemented into a child’s life. The lack of legal clarity can create issues in creating and maintaining parenting plans.
What Courts Consider
Historically, Oregon courts have been reluctant to force religious practices on a child who is of the age to make a thoughtful and reasonable decision regarding the religion or religious practice. For example, in one case, the parents disagreed about whether their child could get circumcised after the child converted to Judaism. The court sent the case back to the trial court to determine the child’s thoughts and state of mind regarding the procedure rather than making the decision for the child. In another case, the court determined the parents’ disagreement about who the child should spend their time with during the Sabbath was a parenting time dispute, rather than an issue that should be resolved by the courts. The court prioritized stability and consistency in the child’s life over making any determination on the basis of religion.
In conclusion, balancing parties’ competing interests can create complex problems with no clear legal solution. Thus, it’s essential to communicate a child’s religious upbringing in any court documents clearly and specifically. Mediation can be a useful tool for helping parents come to an agreement on a child’s religious upbringing and how it will be incorporated into the parenting plan and custody agreement. While there may be no “right” way to navigate religion and parenting, maintaining open dialogue and keeping the child’s best interests at the forefront of any agreement can help eliminate any problems that may arise.