As Chicago custody attorneys, clients often asked how religious upbringing is handled when parents go through a divorce or are no longer together. In an Illinois divorce or custody case, a religious upbringing cause is typically incorporated into an Allocation Judgment (formerly called “Custody Judgments”). Even if the parties are not particularly religious, that information is often inserted into these agreements, even if to say as such. Religious decisions are one of the four major decision-making responsibilities parents in Illinois may have for their minor children, in addition to health care, education, and extra-curricular activity-related decisions. Usually, when parties cannot agree on parenting decisions, the status quo is looked at when there is a disagreement regarding what the religious upbringing clause should state.
Difference Between Religious Upbringing Clauses and Religion-Related Issues
The religious upbringing clause is different than other religion-related issues because it speaks specifically to what faith, if any, the parents will raise their children in and who will make major decisions as it relates to religion. This type of legal provision doesn’t necessarily limit the ability of a parent to expose their child to a particular religion unless it specifically states that.
For example, if a child is invited to a baptism or a bar mitzvah, the religious upbringing section of an agreement generally doesn’t prohibit the child’s attendance (unless it specifically states so); it is simply on that basis the child is not being raised in that religion. The provision is intended to describe what religion(s) the child will be affiliated with. It may discuss what the parties have agreed upon so far – that a child will receive religious training through their first confirmation, for example, or that the parties intend for the child to have a bar or bat mitzvah – but then it generally will still indicate which parent makes decisions about religion beyond that. If both parents discuss these decisions, try to agree, and then attend mediation absent an agreement, this is what we call “joint decision making” (similar to what we formerly called “joint custody”). If one parent is will be making all decisions, that is similar to what we used to refer to as “sole custody.”
A religious upbringing clause is an important provision in the future and must be adhered to unless modified. If a parent deviates from the chosen established religious affiliation for a child, that deviation could be a basis for the other parent to try and modify parenting time or parental responsibilities (decision-making). These types of custody-related cases often receive much media attention due to the unique issues they raise and are widely reported on. Needless to say, if your parenting plan and allocation agreement includes a religious upbringing clause, it is very important to ensure that its provisions are followed.
Religious Upbringing Clauses and the Blended Family
One common issue with religious upbringing clauses occurs with respect to blended families. Let’s say the parent marries someone outside of their own religion and converts. They still have to raise their child in the religion set forth in their Allocation Judgment. They cannot change the child’s religion simply because they are changing their own. Additionally, modification of a child’s religion wouldn’t be likely, absent an agreement by both parents to do so, because it may not serve the minor child’s best interests to suddenly change religions.
When More Than One Religion Is Involved
In families that observe or have a background in more than one religion, it often helps to have language indicating that the religious upbringing clause does not limit the minor child’s exposure to other religions via family events, etc., if that is something that is likely to happen. That way it is completely clear that taking a child to a family member’s event of a different religion is not cause for concern later on.
Type and Frequency of Religious Training
The type and frequency of religious training also can be detailed in an agreement as long as the parties agree so that they do not have to argue about it later. Similarly, some parents may choose to indicate in an agreement that they are choosing not to raise the child with any formal religious training. While the parties may be on the same page at one point about this, these things can change with time, new relationships, and new perspectives, so it is always best to try and establish what the agreement will be in this document so that it cannot be challenged later.
Finally, the best thing to do regarding religious training and decision making is to try to agree with your ex-partner about the topic. Having a judge make decisions about how your child’s religious upbringing, which is inherently personal and sensitive in nature, almost always results in a negative outcome for one or both parents. It is best for parents to come to their own agreement during their divorce and co-parenting negotiations rather than to leave it in the hands of the court, and then the parties are almost always more likely to follow it as well.