In most cases, the court will not use the religious beliefs of one parent as a primary determinant for child custody arrangements. However, that doesn’t mean religion won’t factor into custody decisions at all—just that it is likely to be one of a multitude of factors.
For religion to be one of the primary determining factors, it would almost have to be a situation in which there would be evidence that the child being brought up in a certain religious environment would be harmful or even abusive to the child.
What qualifies as a “harmful” religious environment?
Judges will generally not limit the religious activities of a parent unless there is proof they could cause substantial harm to the child. The religion being highly demanding is not enough of a standard—courts will not prevent parents from raising a child in a religion that has stringent rules for dress, diet or behavior.
Courts will also not take issue with a child being exposed to different religions depending on the home they’re staying in. Custody orders will generally not limit which religious activities a child can participate in if the parents both practice different religions.
If, however, there is any evidence that religious activities or environments could cause mental, emotional or physical harm to a child, then the court may take action to limit the child’s exposure to that religion. In such a case, the custody arrangements would likely favor the parent who did not practice that allegedly harmful religion. Keep in mind the standard for actual harm in such cases is a high one; it will be rare that a court rules a religion or religious environment does, in fact, pose a danger to a child.
If you have any questions about the issues that go into determining child custody arrangements, we encourage you to contact an experienced Minnesota divorce lawyer at Appelhof, Pfeifer & Hart, P.A.
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