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Who Gets to Pick a Child’s Religion After Divorce?

When parents with different religious beliefs get divorced, there may be some debate as to which parent will be able to have the greater influence on the children’s religious upbringing.

There are several standards courts will use in family law cases regarding decisions about religion. They are as follows:

  • Actual or substantive harm: Courts will only restrict a parent’s First Amendment rights to raise a child in the religion of their choice if doing so would cause actual or substantive harm to the child.
  • Risk of harm: Courts may restrict a parent’s right to raise a child in the religion of their choice if the religious practices chosen by the parent could potentially cause harm to the child.
  • No harm: The court will allow a custodial parent to decide the religion of the child without consideration of actual or potential harm.

The type of standard the court uses will vary from location to location. Judges will have plenty of discretion in determining whether or not the standard is met.

There are other factors to consider. If a child is old enough, the court may allow the child to make his or her own religious decisions. If not, the court will first consider who has legal custody of the child.

If the parents share legal custody, courts will also consider the religion in which the child was raised. Typically the court will be hesitant to allow one parent to change the child’s religion if the other parent will continue to practice the same religion in which the child has been raised. But if both parents change religion after separating, this could add some complications. The court may allow both parents to teach their children their new religion, or may allow the parent with primary physical custody to decide.

For more information about how courts will handle issues with religion after a divorce, contact an experienced Minnesota divorce lawyer at Appelhof, Pfeifer & Hart, P.A.

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