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Divorced Parents' Religious Wishes for their Children

Girl Praying.jpgReligious upbringing of children is a major point of contention for divorced parents. When parents are of different religious faiths, each parent may have their own idea of the beliefs with which their children should be raised. In some cases, the parties or a court may have decided that a certain parent can choose the primary religious upbringing. This does not mean, though, that the parties are limited in exposing their children to other religions.  

In Dilisi v. Dilisi, the divorced parents shared joint custody of their two daughters through a property settlement agreement (the "Agreement"). The Agreement provided that the children would be raised "in the Roman Catholic faith." The daughters were baptized, had their First Communion, and also attend a private Catholic school. In addition, the non-custodial parent, the Defendant, had been bringing the daughters to Sunday services at a nondenominational Christian Church for months. 

The case came before the court when the father made an application to the court enforce his rights to take the daughters on vacation, but never received a response. In response, the mother,  the custodial parent, filed with the court for a number of different requests for relief, including an order which barred the father from taking the daughters to a "non-Roman Catholic Church." The lower court interpreted the Agreement to mean that if the children were going to church, it must be a Roman Catholic church; it granted the mother's request for relief.  

An Appellate Court reviewed the lower court's decision. It looked closely at prior cases that held "[I]t is in the best interest and welfare of the children . . . that the custodial parent be the one to control their religious upbringing." However, the Court looked closer at this rule and decided that it does not prevent the non-custodial parent from taking children to other religious services or from exposing the children to other cultures and their practices. Holding otherwise would infringe on the rights of the non-custodial parent. Moreover, the visit to nondenominational or non-Roman Catholic churches would not hinder the daughters' upbringing in the Roman Catholic faith.  

Courts are careful not to inadvertently "choose between religions," or "prevent exposure to competing and pulling religious ideas and rituals." The Court in this case instead tried to establish non-religious rules that both respects each parents' wishes for their children's religious upbringing, as well as ensure that children do not feel conflicting pressure from these wishes. 

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