Does Religion Affect Child Custody Arrangements?

Religion & Child Custody in New York Divorce Cases

Child custody tends to feel like a never-ending battle. Disagreements can span a vast range of areas, such as where the child will go to school, visitation schedules, medical treatment for the child, and so on. One particular question that we aim to address, however, is whether or not religion impacts child custody arrangements.

Religion tends to be an issue in interfaith marriages where one parent practices a different religion than the other. Although many spouses can overlook those differences and stay happily married, their compromises on religion can go out the door during a divorce involving children. It is not uncommon for divorcing parents who practice different religions to experience conflicts in raising their children post-divorce. Some religions impose standards on food, attire, medical treatment, and education, which could affect a child’s upbringing.

With this in mind, parents may ask themselves, “Does religion impact my child custody case?”

First Amendment Rights

The First Amendment of the United States Constitution protects freedom of speech, religion, peaceful assembly, and the press. As such, New York family courts cannot restrict a parent’s constitutional right to freely practice their religion. When a divorce case involves children, however, a parent’s child custody rights may suffer if their religious practices present a substantial risk of harm to their child.

Best Interests of the Child Standard

To determine child custody arrangements in New York, a judge must examine several factors in what is known as the “best interest of the child” standard. The factors within this standard exist to help judges decide what will best serve the child. They include:

  • which parent has been the main caregiver/nurturer of the child
  • the parenting skills of each parent, their strengths and weaknesses, and their ability to provide for the child's special needs, if any
  • the mental and physical health of the parents
  • whether there has been domestic violence in the family
  • work schedules and childcare plans of each parent
  • the child's relationships with brothers, sisters, and members of the rest of the family
  • what the child wants, depending on the age of the child
  • each parent's ability to cooperate with the other parent and to encourage a relationship with the other parent, when it is safe to do so

Ultimately, the child’s health and safety are a priority in New York. Thus, anything that may cause them substantial harm may not be considered in the child’s best interests and move a judge to award joint and/or legal custody to one parent over the other. For example, if a parent’s religious traditions or beliefs pose a substantial risk of harm to their child, a judge may suspend or revoke their child custody rights.

Do not assume that practices such as fasting, dressing a certain way, and behaving in a particular manner are considered substantially harmful. A judge will examine whether factors such as physical abuse, sexual abuse, or threats of such harm, or other detrimental acts to the child’s wellbeing are present in a given case. From there, they may modify the child custody arrangement accordingly.

Discuss Your Situation with Us and Call (845) 605-4330

Although it can be challenging to agree on every aspect of your child custody arrangement, especially if religion is of concern, know that it is not always impossible. Our Putnam County divorce attorneys are highly skilled and experienced in helping both parties reach a mutually beneficial agreement in their child custody matters and are confident that we can help you achieve the same.

To get clarifying answers to your questions, please do not hesitate to contact us online to schedule a free, confidential consultation!

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