Religion and the Family Court

Religion and the Family Court

With our society becoming more and more secular, fights between parents about their children’s religion become less common. When they do occur, it can be challenging to the court as to what order to make in the child’s best interests.

What happens when two parents are diametrically opposed as to a child’s religion? There have been  cases, for example, when both parties have adopted a hippy lifestyle, and then one has decided to change course, and become born again. Or one is a fervant Catholic, believing that the child should attend Mass each Sunday, and the other parent is an atheist.

One would hope that when the parents started their relationship that there might have been some accommodation between them about religion. This accommodation may leave wriggle room after their relationship has broken down to put agreed arrnagements in place for their child’s religious education.

What happens when one parent leaves a religion, and this leaving cuts across the religious beliefs of the other parent? The parent remaining with the religion may form the view that the other parent is an un-believer, and will not reach Heaven, or the change in course might damage the child.

The challenge for the court is then to reconcile the conflict arising from the different religious beliefs, insofar as it impacts on the child, and tries to ensure that neither parent denigrates the other to their child.

An example of the challenges was highlighted by the American Bar Association Journal, reporting on a case from Chicago- that of Joseph and Rebecca Reyes. Rebecca swore in the court proceedings that her husband, raised as a Catholic had converted to her religion, Judaism, on marriage. She said that he agreed to raise their daughter in the Jewish faith.

Joseph in turn denied that he agreed to raise the daughter only in the Jewish faith.

The daughter aged 3 attended a Jewish preschool.

What brought matters to a head was that Joseph took their 3 year old daughter, without consulting with Rebecca to a Catholic church, and had her baptised. Rebecca only learnt afterwards when Joseph emailed her.

The reaction was fairly predictable: Rebecca then obtained an order restraining Joseph from exposing their daughter to any religion other than Judaism.

Joseph did nto take this lying down. Instead, allegedly at his 3 year old daughter’s request, with a TV camera crew in tow, he took his daughter to mass at the Catholic Holy Name Cathedral.

Again, Rebecca’s reaction was fairly predictable- she has filed for Joseph to be dealt with for criminal contempt. Joseph is stating that he is not in criminal contempt.

At last report, the matter was still wending its way through court.

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Family Law Section Law Council of Australia Award
Member of Queensland law society
Family law Practitioners Association
International Academy of Family Lawyers - IAFL
Mediator Standards Board