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Child Custody & Visitation

Co-Parenting After Your California Divorce: What Happens When You and Your Ex Have Different Religions?

By April 23, 2010June 16th, 2016No Comments3 min read

Courts throughout California and the country have dealt with questions about child custody and religion for decades.  What will happen if divorced parents (or unmarried parents who are no longer together) have different religions and disagree about which faith to raise their children in?  The truth is, unless and until the U.S. Supreme Court decides this question, there’s no black and white answer that applies nationwide. 

In the Los Angeles Times, Manya A. Brachear reports on a bitter divorce battle in Illinois between two parents, one Jewish, one Catholic.  After getting married, husband Joseph Reyes had converted to Judaism.  According to wife Rebecca Reyes (who is Jewish) she and her husband had agreed to raise their daughter Jewish.  Meanwhile Joseph Reyes, a second year law student, claims they had agreed to expose their daughter to both Catholicism and Judaism and let their daughter decide which religion to adopt.

Things became more heated last year when Joseph sent his wife photos of their daughter’s baptism.  Rebecca went to court, and the court issued an order that temporarily barred Joseph from exposing their daughter to any religion other than Judaism during his visitation time with her.

Afterwards, Joseph was charged with allegedly violating that order by taking his daughter to mass.  He calls the order unconstitutional, believing the court order violated his First Amendment right to freedom of religion.  At least for now, an Illinois judge has refused to make any changes to the temporary order.

It’s not very common for a judge to prohibit a parent from exposing his child to his own religion.  It remains to be seen what will happen after the divorce, since the current order will be in place only until the end of the divorce trial.

Religion in California Child Custody and Visitation Cases

The law is different from one state to the next.  If you and the other parent haven’t been able to make your own arrangements on your children’s religious upbringing, then in California, a judge will make the decision on a case by case basis.

Two Types of Child Custody

A parent can be given either “legal custody,” “physical custody,” or both.  A parent with legal custody makes the final decisions on the child’s upbringing.  This includes decision making about your child’s religion, education, and medical care.

Physical custody is about daily child care, because the child lives with the parent who has physical custody.  If the court orders joint custody, then both parents share legal and/or physical custody, depending on the order.  If not, then the non-custodial parent is often given visitation rights.

Restrictions on Visitation Rights

For the most part, a parent’s visitation rights can’t be restricted because of a parent’s religious beliefs.  That means that even if one parent has sole custody, the other parent can usually share his or her religious practices with the child.  The only time a judge can place limits on visitation rights for religious reasons is if there’s evidence that the child is actually harmed by the religious beliefs.

When it comes to child custody and religion, California law can continue to change.  Religion is a deeply important issue for many divorcing spouses, and it’s not always easy to avoid conflict when deciding how to raise your children if you each have different religions.  If you’re in this situation, we can help you work with the other parent and the court.  Your approach to this sensitive issue matters, so get the guidance you need by contacting Minella Law Group’s knowledgeable child custody and divorce attorneys at (619) 289-7948.