religion and religious training custody

How Does Religion Impact Child Custody and Access Decisions?

Since the revising of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act the state of Illinois no longer uses the term “custody”.  Previously, a parent with sole custody could make decisions about religion and religious training for their minor child.  Now, Illinois has what is referred to as “allocation of parental responsibilities” and one of the “parental responsibilities” a parent can be allocated is religious decisions for a minor child.  Decisions about religion can be made jointly, where the parents try to work together to make the decision for their child and attend mediation if they are unable to do so. 

Can Decisions About Religion Be Allocated to One Parent?

The responsibility to make decisions about religion also can be allocated solely to one parent.  This is going to depend on many factors, including but not limited to, what the status quo has been regarding these decisions during the parties’ marriage as well as what the minor child’s religious upbringing has been, as well as if the parties are part of the same religion or different religions. Every situation is unique and with the “unbundling” of “custody” decisions in Illinois, it is now easier to give decision-making authority to only one parent in a specific area when the situation is warranted.

When the parties are from the same religious background, or otherwise agree to no religion in their children’s lives, the religious parental responsibilities and decision making are somewhat easy to adjudicate.  Usually, when parents agree, there is no need to “divide” up this area of allocation.  When the parties have a difference of opinion on religion or come from different religious backgrounds, that is when things become tricky. 

Religious Decision-Making Should Not Impact a Parent’s Access or Parenting Time

Generally speaking, the allocation of religious decision-making shouldn’t impact a parent’s access or parenting time, unless there is something in the parties’ Allocation Judgment that explicitly limits the ability of a parent to do something having to do with religion during their parenting time. 

For example, you may have a situation where one parent is Jewish and another parent is Christian.  The parties may have agreed early on to raise their children as Christian, but now they are divorcing.  The Court could, theoretically, find that the children have been exposed to both religions and have no formal religious training. And, accordingly, the children should continue to be exposed to both religions. 

Or, the court may look at the status quo and say, that while the children have celebrated religious holidays with both sides of the family, the parties have started religious training for a specific religion already, and that will continue.  Of course, generally speaking, children can still continue to attend religious milestone events with their parent who is of a different religion. However, a child who is not being raised Jewish will not be permitted to be enrolled in Hebrew school, and a child who is not being raised Catholic will not be permitted to be enrolled in CCD classes.

Parental Cooperation with Child’s Religious Training

The Court may also require that the parents comply and cooperate with the minor child’s religious training.  That may mean the non-Christian parent driving the children to CCD classes during their parenting time, or the non-Jewish parent driving the children to Hebrew School classes during their parenting time.  This doesn’t mean the parent has to practice what the child practices, but they may be required to contribute to the driving and facilitate the religious training.

Religious Training Decisions With Young Children

In some scenarios, particularly when children are very young, they may not have started religious training at all, and the parties may disagree regarding how they want his pursued.  In these scenarios, where there really isn’t a “status quo” the Court might enlist the assistance of a Guardian Ad Litem to help determine what the proper course of action should be as to religion going forward.  A Custody Evaluator could also be appointed pursuant to 750 ILCS 5/604.10(b) to assist with these sorts of allocations.

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