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What happens when divorcing parents differ on religion?

Divorce often exposes the problems that parents have in co-parenting. Some of the most prominent (and difficult) issues Ohio family court judges must encounter are problems involving custody and religion. In these situations, the court must balance a parent's First Amendment right to practice the religion of their choice (and include their children is such activities) against the child's best interests.

This question becomes ever more complicated when a court orders joint legal custody, even when the divorcing parents have major differences over their child's religious upbringing. Essentially, the court must decide whether a particular religious practice puts the child in danger or does not promote his or her best interests.

The standard Ohio courts follow is the "actual or substantial harm" standard. Under this rubric, courts will examine whether religious customs create authentic emotional harm or physical challenges that will affect their upbringing. Courts will look at how children have been treated or allowed to practice different religions, as well as how adjustments to different practices have affected them. They may rely on reports from therapists and guardian ad litems in making their decisions.

Even though a uniform standard is applied in religious freedom cases, each case is unique and could lead to different decisions, even though the facts of one case are similar to another. Also, some judges will incorporate an expectation that parents should expose children to both religions to the greatest extent possible. While this may be difficult for parents to understand, it is ultimately the court's goal to ensure that both parents have the ability to play an active role in the child's life.

Source: FindLaw.com, Divorce, Child Custody and Religion

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