In many marriages, one spouse will hold strong religious beliefs and will provide religious guidance to any children born of the marriage, while the other spouse will not actively practice religion. Accordingly, when a couple with such differing religious beliefs decides to divorce, the issue of what religious upbringing the couple’s children will have is often a point of contention. Recently, a New York appellate court discussed what role religion should have in determining what custody arrangement is in the best interest of a child in a case involving the divorce of a mixed-faith couple. If you and your child’s co-parent have different religious beliefs, it is advisable to speak with a proficient New York child custody attorney to discuss how those beliefs may affect your custody arrangement.
Facts of the Case
Allegedly, the husband and the wife were married in 2009 and had two children shortly thereafter. The husband and the wife both practiced Hasidic Judaism when they were married, but at some point, the husband became non-religious. The couple subsequently separated, and the wife filed for divorce. The court ultimately awarded the wife sole legal custody of the children and granted the husband parental access. The court also directed the husband to attempt to only provide the children with kosher food and to make reasonable efforts to ensure that the children complied with the requirements of the Hasidic religion. The husband appealed, arguing that the trial court erred in granting the wife sole legal custody and that it was unconstitutional to impose religious obligations on him.
Religion as a Factor in Determining Custody
In any case, in which a court must determine custody, the court’s main concern is what is in the best interest of the child or children involved. The court will assess several factors in determining what is in a child’s best interest, including the health of the parents and child, which parent can better provide for the child, and if a child has existing ties to a religious community, which parent can better serve the child’s religious needs. Religion alone cannot be the determining factor in deciding a custody arrangement, however.