When parents divorce, they end up arguing about a number of issues concerning the children involved. One hotly debated issue for many couples is what religion the children will follow.
The following will review how the question of what faith a child will follow after parents separate has been answered by Georgia courts.
A Balancing Test
When asked to resolve disagreements between divorced or separated parents concerning the religious upbringing of children, courts often attempt to balance these concerns.
On one hand, courts recognize an individual’s protected First Amendment right to freedom of religion. On the other side of the scale, courts are required to protect the best interests of children when making decisions about how the child will be raised.
When parents disagree about religious activities that the other parent is requiring the children to undergo, courts are asked to determine whether it is necessary to interfere with religious freedom to protect a child’s best interest.
How Courts Resolve This Question
The United States Supreme Court has yet to provide an answer about how these conflicting values should be resolved. As a result, it is currently up to each state court to determine what legal should be used to resolve these issues.
Many courts have applied one of the following three standards:
- Actual or substantial harm. Courts that follow this standard only restrict a parent’s exercise of religion if the parent’s practice results in any actual or substantial harm to the child.
- Risks of harm. Under this standard, courts exercise a parent’s freedom of religion if the parent’s religious practice could potentially harm the child at any point in the future.
- No harm required. Courts that follow this standard find that a parent’s right to influence the religion of a child is exclusive. If the custodial parent objects to the non-custodial parent’s religious activities, the non-custodial parent must stop. Georgia courts have had a tendency to follow this standard.
The Importance of Parenting Agreements
Many parents resolve this uncertainty of religious upbringing for a child after a divorce by signing a contract or verbal agreement. Courts, however, do not always follow these agreements.
Some of the reasons why courts might decline to follow an agreement of this nature include:
- The agreement is vague in nature and does not specify the degree of religious exposure that the child will receive.
- Both parents interpret the agreement in different ways.
- The agreement was made years ago, and many circumstances involved with the parents and child have changed since then.
One Noteworthy Georgia Case
In the Georgia case of Greene v. Greene, the parties entered into a settlement agreement in their divorce action, which stated that the parties would have joint legal custody of the child. Additionally, the agreement stated that the mother would have final decision making matters on all issues related to religion.
After agreeing that the child would be raised in the Jewish faith, the father violated this agreement and the mother initiated legal action.
The Georgia Court of Appeals ultimately held that when a settlement agreement is a clear and unambiguous statement, the terms must be strictly enforced.
Speak with a Knowledgeable Family Law Attorney
The divorce process is complex, which is why it is often a good idea to retain the assistance of an experienced divorce lawyer.
At Vayman & Teitelbaum, P.C., we have helped families navigate a number of complex issues involved with divorce concerning those related to the faith in which a child will be raised. Contact us today.