Know your child’s religious preferences
Children have a constitutional right to the free exercise of religion, just like their parents. For this reason, parents should not automatically assume that a child’s religious preferences will mirror their own preferences. Especially with older children, parents should not assume that the children are simply following the faith they were born into.
A Family Court judge must tread very carefully in dealing with religious issues. On one hand, he does not want to encroach anybody’s constitutional free exercise rights under the First Amendment, but on the other hand, he will want to act in the child’s best interests. Frequently, parents try to convince the judge in a custody case that their religious faith — or their spiritual practices — will serve the child’s bests interests.
The parents’ arguments can backfire, however, if neither of them inquires about the child’s own preferences and interests. To win the approval of the Family Court judge when religious issues are in dispute, parents should interview their own children. Find out whether they feel connected to their churches or synagogues. Find out what they like an dislike. Find out if they’ve been inquiring about other religious faiths. Are they confused? Are they focused? Are they detached from religious altogether, or is a major part of their daily lives? Get a clear fix on the children’s connection to religious faith before raising the religion card in a courtroom.
If your child has demonstrated his or her commitment to a particular faith by participating in volunteer religious programs, bible study classes, church-sponsored social organizations, Hebrew schools, Sunday schools and other such programs, be sure to collect evidence of this participation as part of your case.
Tomorrow: Why the court might limit a parent’s free exercise of religion.