Please take a look at a recent blog entry written by Robert Epstein, a family law attorney in Fox Rothschild’s Roseland, New Jersey office. Robert wrote about the role of religion in divorce and custody cases and gives some insight into how religious decisions are made in New Jersey custody cases.
Recently, a colleague in my office had the experience of litigating a religious issue in a Pennsylvania custody case. The mother had made all the arrangements pertaining to the child’s first communion, but the father objected, wanting instead to bring the child up in a different religious tradition.
Unlike New Jersey, Pennsylvania does not have a definable way to determine who has the ability to educate or bring up the child in their particular religious traditions, instead, religious upbringing is a “legal custody” decision which usually requires both parties to agree to a particular decision (also under this analysis – school and educational decisions, medical decisions).
Anecdotally, we anticipate judges choosing to not interfere with these issues – unless the child’s health and safety are at risk, they will not intervene and decide what religious tradition the child should be raised in or whether the child should be barred from participating in a religious ceremony. In fact, the standard is that the ceremony will proceed unless the objecting party can show that the child will experience substantial harm, physically or mentally, at any time now or in the future.
Ultimately, my colleague’s case turned on the mother’s apparent deceit in how she registered the child for Sunday School, nevertheless, had the judge reached the merits of the issue, there were few facts available to the father to prevent the child’s first communion from proceeding.