Coates & Davenport, P.C.

Child custody and religion can be an issue this time of year

The winter holidays are just around the corner, but, for many in Virginia, holidays are about more than just celebrating family and gift giving. These holidays often have a deep religious significance for many. So, in addition to the festivities, many people may be heading to their place of worship over the coming month. However, what happens if a child's parents have different religions and are divorced? How is it decided which religious faith the child will practice?

In general, if parents share joint legal custody, then they both have the right to make major life decisions on behalf of the child, including what religion the child will practice. While they may come to an agreement on this issue out of court, oftentimes a court needs to determine what is in the best interests of the child. Many courts determine that the child will not be harmed if they are exposed to one religion by one parent and another religion by the other parent. However, noncustodial parents generally cannot intentionally interfere with the custodial parent's religious choices.

Child custody decisions are made based on the best interests of the child, and courts often find that it benefits a child to be part of a religious faith, especially if the child was already practicing the religion prior to the divorce. However, courts will also want to ensure that the child's religious practices do not cause them harm.

The winter holidays hold a special religious meaning for many in Virginia and are a time for solemn worship. Many parents want to include their children in their religious practices, but this can become complicated if a child's parents are divorced and are of different religious faiths. If parents share joint legal custody, they can try to iron out the issue on their own. However, if they cannot reach an agreement, they can turn to the court for a decision on which religion the parents can expose the child to.

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