Nothing is more important than our children, and nothing can cause more anxiety for a parent than a child custody dispute. If you are involved in or anticipating a child custody dispute during or after your divorce, arrange to speak about your concerns with a Rochester family law attorney.

One question that is frequently asked by divorcing parents is this: Are you required to allow your child to participate in your ex-spouse’s religion? Marriages involving couples of different religions – or couples where one person is religious and the other is not – are common.

While many of these marriages succeed, others end in divorce. Keep reading, and you’ll learn how disputes over a child’s religious training after a divorce are handled by New York’s family courts. You’ll also learn more about your parental and legal rights in these types of cases.

What Do Children Require the Most During a Divorce?

It’s always best if divorcing parents can take a cooperative approach to resolving their disputes, especially the custody and visitation disputes that most affect the children. Ensuring that they are loved by both parents and that they are safe is what children require the most during a divorce.

After a divorce, each parent’s parental rights depend on the terms and conditions of the custody order issued by the court at the time of the divorce. A custody order gives responsibility for the child’s care and how the child is raised to one or both of the child’s parents (or to someone else).

How Does Child Custody Work in New York?

The court determines custody based on what it believes is the best interests of the child. There are two parts to “child custody” in the State of New York – legal custody and physical custody:

1. A parent with “legal custody” has a legal right to make decisions about a child’s medical care and religious training. In a joint legal custody scenario, the parents make decisions together, and it doesn’t matter which parent the child lives with – the parents must agree.

2. If the court gives sole legal custody of a child to one parent, that parent alone has the right to make decisions about the child’s medical care and religious training.

3. The parent with “physical custody” is responsible for the child’s day-to-day supervision. If the court gives sole physical custody to one parent, the child lives primarily with this parent, and the noncustodial parent usually has regularly scheduled visitations.

Why is a Written Parenting Agreement So Important?

When religion is important to a parent, it’s only natural that the parent would want to share his or her religion. After a divorce, parents who had a strong and respectful co-existence between their respective faiths may find themselves in a dispute over the religious training of their children.

It’s easy to see how different religious views can generate acrimony after a divorce. Since religious views are often held passionately, these differences are sometimes difficult to resolve.

Divorcing parents can avoid a legal dispute – and the time, expense, and aggravation that a legal dispute entails – if they can find a mutually agreeable way to share their faiths with their children. The best way to ensure such an understanding is with a written parenting agreement.

Divorce mediation is one way to arrive at an agreement that meets your family’s needs. Mediation gives divorcing parents an opportunity to jointly develop a parenting plan that’s acceptable to both of them. A Rochester divorce attorney can tell you more about mediation.

Compromise is the Key

Both parents should talk to their children about their faith, but unless one parent has the exclusive decision-making power, participation in organized religious rituals should require consent from both parents and should be explicitly covered in the parenting agreement.

Compromise is key. Especially try to avoid acrimony during religious holidays. Otherwise, the child’s experience of the holiday may be ruined.

Try to understand the other parent’s viewpoint. If the issue of religious training becomes contentious, seek a mediator or a therapist to help you and your ex work through the dispute and to help you find a solution that’s acceptable to both of you.

You will also need to be advised by a Rochester child custody attorney who will ensure that your parental rights are recognized and that the court’s child custody order is effectively enforced.

Do You Need to Change the Child Custody Order?

If you are a parent with sole or joint legal custody, if you object to your child’s participation in your ex-spouse’s religion, and if you cannot reach a private agreement with your ex, a New York family law attorney can ask the court on your behalf to modify its child custody order.

Even though your divorce attorney may have hammered out an agreement that “resolved” the child custody question, or the court may have issued a “final” child custody order, some situations may demand a modification of that order.

How Do the Courts Handle Child Custody Modifications?

Taking your ex to court over the religious training of your child is genuinely a last resort.

You will need to discuss the matter fully with your attorney first, and you will also need to keep in mind that:

1. The modification of a child custody order is usually granted only after a “major” life change such as a relocation, career change, remarriage, or a serious health issue.

2. When cases involving a child come before family courts in New York, the court’s highest priority is the best interests of the child. Family courts usually presume that joint custody is best, but they will award sole custody when a judge believes it is best for the child.

When Should You Contact a Family Law Attorney?

Successful parenting after a divorce requires tolerance, cooperation, and mutual respect. Do not hesitate to seek legal help after a divorce with the modification of any divorce-related court order, and especially if it involves your children and their well-being.

If you are seeking to modify a child custody order, and if the other parent opposes the modification, you will need to have a Rochester family law attorney advocating on your behalf.

Whether you need immediate representation, or if you simply need reliable legal advice to help you plan for your family’s future, the right New York family lawyer can evaluate your situation, discuss your legal options, and help you make the right choices for your family and your future.