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Faith matters: When parents disagree over their kids' religion

For some people, it is not important whether or not their children are brought up in their faith. But for others, it is a very serious matter.

When spouses of different faiths split up, the parents or the courts must determine in which religion (if any) the children will be raised.

When the parents can't agree, the courts must weigh the children's best interests against those of their parents. When one parent argues that raising the kids in the other parent's religion can cause them harm, it pits the kids' welfare against the parent's rights under the First Amendment.

Judges can consider standards of "actual or substantial harm" and restrict the parent's rights if those practices could bring harm to the kids. Courts can also weigh the risk of harm, or follow a standard of no harm, wherein no consideration is given to potential harm to the children being raised in that faith.

New York follows the standard of actual or substantial harm, which means that the parent opposing the faith indoctrination must be able to prove it will cause harm to the minor children.

As with other matters involving the custody of children, it is always better when the parties can forge an agreement together. But not all spouses can achieve that, which is how the courts wind up pondering deeply personal matters of faith as they make their custody determinations.

If you find yourself in an untenable position with your children's welfare being jeopardized by your ex's religious practices, you can turn to the New York family courts for an impartial decision.

Source: Findlaw, "Divorce: Child Custody and Religion," accessed March 11, 2016

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