Sharing Custody of Children During Religious Holidays
As previously blogged about in "Part I: Religion and Child Custody," a common issue in divorce revolves around which religion a child will follow after parents separate. Another common issue recognized by divorce attorneys is how to fairly share custody of children during religious holidays. The recent passing of the Easter holiday likely posed a special concern for divorcing parents with children. In our previous post, we discussed parents with sole legal custody.
Joint legal custody presents divorce attorneys with unique issues. If both parents share joint legal custody, and one parent objects to the other parent's decisions regarding the child's religion, a judge will have to determine whether the child can be raised as a Catholic, Buddhist, Jewish, etc. The courts will generally first consider the religion that the child was raised in while the parents were still married and order that the child continue to be raised in that same religion.
Since the right to raise a child as the parent sees fit and the right to freedom of religion are both protected by the Constitution, courts must be careful not to infringe on these constitutional rights while still protecting the best interests of the child.
Joint physical custody means that both parents share in the right to spend time with the child or children. Despite custody agreements, problems always seem to arise with regards to holidays, especially when each parent has his/her own religious beliefs and traditions. Holidays like Mother's Day and Father's Day are usually easy to compromise, because they have alternative days to give each parent equivalent time. However, the same cannot be said for religious holidays such as Easter. Easter does not have an alternative celebration date. Divorce lawyers must consider their client's faiths when providing legal advice.
In order to deal with this problem, many divorce attorneys will advise their clients to agree to alternate custody between holidays each year, such as Easter and Thanksgiving. However, for some parents who are particularly religious or have long-lived family traditions, they do not consider the Easter holiday to be equivalent to the Thanksgiving holiday. Thus, shared custody on holidays needs to be determined well ahead of time and with the children's best interests in mind.
Children With Parents of Different Faiths
Another problem arises where divorcing parents are of differing faiths. For example, where one parent is Christian and the other is Jewish, the Easter and Passover holidays usually pose a concern regarding child custody because the holidays often fall near each other on a calendar. Sometime these two holidays will even occur on the very same day. Therefore, it is extremely important that these situations are discussed early on, and that divorce lawyers draft custody agreements that spell-out exactly what will happen with regards to custody to the greatest extent possible.