Religious Beliefs in a San Diego Child Custody Case
Generally speaking, religious belief is one of the more sensitive topics we discuss and debate over as a society. During child custody proceedings, it's certainly no different. When a marriage or partnership dissolves and parents split up, there is often disagreement over custody, visitation, child support, and many other details that are important for the child's upbringing – religious beliefs being among them.
Usually, these disagreements can be remedied through arbitration, but this isn't always the case. If an arrangement can't be made that is agreeable to both parties, it is usually left up to a family law judge to make decisions on the child's behalf. Ultimately, the judge will make his or her decision based on what is in the child's best interests. In determining what is in a child's best interest, the judge will consider many factors, including which parent has historically been the primary care giver, and the quality of the relationship between each parent and the child. Religious beliefs, however, are one area that a family law judge CANNOT consider when making a custody decision.
The law takes the concept of "separation of church and state" very seriously. And in adherence to these Constitutional First Amendment Rights, courts are not permitted to make custody or visitation decisions based on a parent's religious beliefs or practices. The only exception to this would be if there is compelling evidence that the specific religious beliefs and practices in question will be harmful to the child in some significant way. In general, a family court will not prevent a parent from teaching a child about a religion or engaging the child in a religious practice, provided the religious practice itself does not amount to a crime, place the child in any physical danger, or subject the child to psychological abuse. When it comes to child custody and religious beliefs, the court system generally won't get involved, and it will instead be up to the parents to come to a rational decision and do what's in the best interest of their child.
Religious beliefs are not the only area that family law court typically steers clear of. Other factors a family law judge cannot take into consideration when determining custody include:
- A parent's race or gender
- A parent's financial status (though one could argue that financial status does affect a parent's ability to provide medical care and the quality of the living accommodations)
- Whether a parent has a physical handicap
- A parent's sexual orientation (unless the parent's sexual practices put the child in physical danger)
In child custody cases, a family law judge will take the following into consideration when determining what is in a child's best interests:
- The child's age
- Each parent's wishes
- The mental and physical health of each parent and the child
- Each parent's willingness to support and facilitate the child's ongoing relationship with the other parent.
- Each parent's ability to provide a stable, loving environment and appropriate living accommodations for the child
- Each parent's ability to provide for the child's medical, physical, and emotional needs
- The level of attachment between the child and his or her home, school environment, neighborhood, and community
- How the child will be affected by the disruption or continuation of the current custody arrangement
- Each child's wishes, considering their age, maturity, and ability to make reasonable, informed decisions
- Confirmed evidence of neglect, abuse, or domestic violence by either parent
- Whether either parent has made false allegations of abuse or neglect against the other
Religious beliefs can be a particularly contentious subject in custody negations. Fortunately, California state law prohibits religious beliefs from being a factor in determining custody. If you find yourself embroiled in a custody or visitation dispute for any reason, it is in your best interests to consult a skilled family law attorney in San Diego. Huguenor Mattis, A.P.C. has been helping parents maintain healthy relationships with their children for over 35 years. Call (858) 458-9500 today for a free consultation.