A parent’s respective right to raise his or her child according to a certain religious faith is largely dependent upon the parties’ current custodial arrangement. Most divorced couples for example have an arrangement where one parent is the parent of primary residence (or the primary caretaker of the children) and the other is the parent of alternate residence (or secondary caretaker of the children). In such situations, the child’s primary caretaker has the right to determine the religious upbringing of the child in his or her charge. Feldman v. Feldman, 378 N.J. Super. 83, 91 (App. Div. 2005) citing Esposito v. Esposito, 41 N.J. 143, 146 (1963). The policy behind providing the children’s custodial parent with the authority to decide religious upbringing is based on the view that it is in the best interest of the child that this decision be made by the custodial parent until the child is capable of deciding for him or herself. Feldman, Supra, 378 N.J. Super. at 92 citing Wojnarowicz v. Wojnarowicz, 48 N.J. Super. 349, 354 (Ch. Div. 1958).
A parent of alternate residence or the child’s secondary caretaker, may have the child follow his or her religious practices when exercising parenting time; however enrolling the child in formal religious educational programs, even during his or her parenting time, is probably not appropriate and will likely not be permitted. Feldman, Supra, 378 N.J. Super. at 92 citing McCown v. McCown, 277 N.J. Super. 213 (App. Div. 1994). Allowing a parent of alternate residence to formally educate a child in a second religion contradicts the right that the parent of primary residence has to educate that child in the religion of his or her choice. Feldman, Supra, 378 N.J. Super. at 96. However, a secondary caretaker or parent of alternate residence is not prohibited from taking his or her child to religious services of his or her choice during his or her respective parenting time. Id.
The best course of action for parties in a custody dispute is to come to an agreement as to the religious upbringing of their children. Although agreements regarding custody and parenting time are always subject to modification based on a significant and permanent change in circumstances, an agreement regarding the children’s religious upbringing will likely be enforced by the court if it is in the children’s best interests. If the parties do not reference the child’s religious upbringing in their agreement, the parent of primary residence will have the authority to determine the child’s religious upbringing without consideration of the other parent’s wishes.
Contact the New Jersey Child Custody Lawyers at Lyons & Associates
We at Lyons & Associates ask the important questions to make sure that questions related to your children’s well-being and upbringing are resolved fairly in your divorce or break up. If you or someone you know has questions about their rights related to a child’s religious upbringing, contact one of the skilled attorneys at Lyons & Associates at 908-575-9777. You can also fill out our online intake form.
Written by: Mark T. Gabriel, Esq.