Parental Rights and Religion

The rights and obligations of being a parent are considered in our society to be fundamental. For this reason, the law is not permitted to enter into this sacred relationship between parent and child, and permits parents to raise their children with any set of values and systems regardless of whether they are traditional, mainstream, or otherwise. It is also public policy, and the trend has been moving in this direction, for parents who decide to divorce to become co-parents and share equal time with the children. Co-parenting and equal time is important. You should speak with an experienced family law attorney who can help ensure that you are involved in all aspects of your children’supbringing.

The Right to Co-Parent: The Best Interest of the Child

Studies have shown that children thrive when their parents share equal time make decisions together, even if they are no longer married. This trumps the old view that the shuttling of children back and forth between residential homes of parents was actually more traumatic for children, and that a single custodial parent was necessary. Because of the increase in research supporting that children who have both parents present in their lives are happier and more stable, Florida’s family law system incorporates this into its child custody requirements.

Co-Parent Plans

It is a presumption that both parents should have a role and parental responsibility in raising the children, and a co-parenting plan can help. It outlines the roles and responsibilities that each parent will have for the children, and which parent and when will make the decision about the their well-being. When one parent is a doctor, it makes more sense that she or he may be in a better, more informed position to make decisions about the medical well-being of the child. When one of the parents is passionate about a child being raised with certain religious tenets, this is also evaluated and considered. Overall, parental responsibility, the co-parenting plan, and the determinations of how the children will be raised and who will make certain decisions are based on the “best interest of the child” test.

When Co-Parenting May Not be Feasible

For example, one parent may be unfit to parent either due to a physical, mental, emotional issue, or incarceration. This may not rise to the level of terminating his or her parental rights, but it may limit the custody rights of that parent, or even dictate whether visitation rights are more appropriate, or not at all. This determination is made based on whether the relationship is harming or threatens to harm the child.

Right of Co-Parent to Raise Children in Religious Practice and Belief

In a recent case tried in Florida’s family court, a parent’s religious views and his desire that the children be subjected to a specific religious dogma was under fire. There is a fundamental right for a parent to raise his or her children within a certain religious practice, and this falls under the free exercise of religious beliefs and practices which is protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. In most courts, the right of a parent to raise a child within a religion is protected, except when clear and convincing evidence is presented to demonstrate affirmatively that the religious beliefs and practices are harmful to the child.

Limits: Where the Religious Belief/Practice is Harmful to the Children

According to the case, testimony and evidence were admitted that demonstrated that the children were being harmed by the religious activities of their father. One of the children suffered a psychotic episode that required hospitalization. The family counselor presented evidence that the religious beliefs were psychologically traumatizing the children, who were terrorized by the father with religious admonishments, demonization of the mother of the children, and threats of damnation. Ultimately the Court ruled that clear and convincing evidence was admitted to prove that the religious activities were harmful to the children, and therefore, a requirement that the father no longer discuss religious beliefs and practices with his children was not seen as a violation of his First Amendment rights or his rights to parent his children.

Please contact West Palm Beach family law attorney William Wallshein for a confidential consultation.