New York Court Discusses the Role of Religion in Child Custody Cases

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.

In the subject case, the court found that it was undisputed that the wife primarily cared for the children prior to the divorce and was better able to support the children’s ties to their religious community. Further, the court rejected the husband’s argument that the imposition of religious restrictions during his times of parental access was unconstitutional, noting that the trial court specifically stated that it was not issuing a mandate regarding religious practices during the husband’s time with the children, but was directing him to make reasonable efforts to uphold the requirements of the children’s religious beliefs. Thus, the court affirmed the trial court ruling.

Meet with a Trusted Child Custody Attorney

If you are considering a divorce or a separation with your chid’s co-parent and of you and the co-parent hold different religious beliefs, it is prudent to meet with an experienced New York child custody attorney to discuss your case. Ksenia Rudyuk is a trusted attorney who will aggressively advocate on your behalf to help you protect your parental rights. You can contact Ms. Rudyuk at 212-706-2001 or via the online form to set up a conference.