The subject of religion can be a very difficult and complex area to negotiate in circumstances where parents may hold very different religious views upon separation.
Within this article I make no differential between any of the major religions, I do not identify that one is preferred over the other or indeed over some of the lesser known and smaller religions either as standalone or offshoots of the main religions.
Parents holding different religious views
Clearly there are limited, if any, issues arising where both parents following separation are both of the same religion and choose to continue to follow that religion but that is not unfortunately always the case and often the issues and matters can be more complex where the separated parents either followed different religions, or one is more religious than the other or if one rejects their previously held beliefs.
In general terms, as indicated in earlier articles where both parents hold parental responsibility, the Court will expect each of the parents to undertake actions to secure the health and safety and welfare of their child. It would be difficult for one parent to be able to insist that the other during their period of time with the child must follow certain religious practices and/or require the child to follow certain religious teachings and/or behaviours.
Similarly, if the parent is non-religious they would not be in a position generally to impose a requirement that the other parent not follow their religious beliefs and/or seek to install those within the child.
Involving the Court
Often the Court is faced with a set of competing religions in terms where parents are seeking to justify why a child should follow a specific path. The Court may take a straightforward pragmatic approach to identify that each parent can continue their religion, to identify the same to the child and ultimately allow the child to make their own decision as to which religion, if any to follow as they grow into adulthood.
Ultimately a Court is more likely to be engaged in circumstances where a particular religion requires an act which will have a fundamental physical impact upon the child. For example whether a child should be circumcised or not or receive a blood transfusion.
The more significant and impact the activity that might be required, the more probable that the Court will be reluctant to allow one parent to ignore the other parent’s views in this regard to undertake a procedural operation which may have a profound impact upon that child without providing the opportunity for that child to then be able to make their own decision as to whether to undertake such procedures in the future when they are able to make decisions on their own behalf.
By contrast, where one parent is say particularly religious and the other not, it is highly unlikely that a Court would prevent the religious parent from undertaking something say such as a christening, confirmation, bar mitzvah etc which may be of significance and fundamental importance to the religious parent but as indicated does not have a specific long-term physical impact upon the child who ultimately will be able to decide whether to continue with that religion or otherwise in the future.
If there is a particular part of a religion which causes a parent who does not follow that concern again, if necessary, the Court can give careful consideration to whether or not an individual parent’s parental responsibility can be restrained through the use and consideration of specific issue or prohibitive steps orders.
Older children and religion
In circumstances however particularly with older children who have already indicated a desire, wish or intent to follow a particular religion, the Court may well additionally intervene if one parent identifies that they are not content with that child’s choices and would seek to prevent or limit the child’s opportunity to follow that religion during a period of time in their care.
The Court again may in those circumstances drawing the balances of the child’s best interests, determine that it is not appropriate for that parent to act in that way and unless receiving reassurances they will allow the child to do so, may limit the parent’s engagement and involvement with the child in order to secure their emotional and psychological wellbeing. Likewise, in the alternative, if a child, particularly an older child, has already determined they do not wish to follow a particular religion and are struggling with the religious parenting impacting that upon them during the period of time they are in a parents care this could have the same, but opposite effect as just identified and lead to restrictions in regards to that parent’s engagement with the child.
As indicated at the commencement in circumstances where religion is of significant and fundamental importance to parents this can lead to highly complex and difficult cases which ultimately if brought before the Court the Court will have to struggle with and do the best it can in providing an outcome which the Court will determine is so far as it is able to do by what is in the child’s best interest rather than that of the individual parent.
If you have asked any questions in relation to a child’s religious upbringing and would now like more information on the different types of proceedings relating to children, please get in touch and we would be happy to assist you.
This article is part of a series on Private Family Law and Children Law proceedings. If you would like to learn more about the rules around parental responsibility, contact, holidays and arrangements for separated parents, please click here for the full series.
The next article in the series will address legalism, vegetarianism and day-to-day care.
If you would like to discuss the different types of legal proceedings relating to children, please get in touch and we’d be happy to assist you.