What happens if parents can’t agree on a child’s religion?
Religion can be a big part of some people’s lives, so it is unsurprising that some separating parents may take very different approaches to a child’s religious upbringing.
The paramount consideration for the Family Court will always be whether such a religious lifestyle is in the best interests of the child. The Family Court’s approach to issues such as this will depend on how each religion affects the child’s lifestyle.
A parenting plan
In making any orders for parenting arrangements, a Family Court must consider the best interests of the child as the most important consideration. Generally, parents can choose to negotiate and come to parenting arrangements on their own. Normally a parenting plan will consider several different elements of a child’s life such as:
- Their religion
- Travel arrangements
- Living arrangements
- Any medical appointments.
This can be beneficial as parenting arrangements made without a court can help to preserve the relationship between separating parents and can be a more comfortable environment which facilitates discussion.
However, parenting plans made without Court intervention will not be legally binding. This means that even if there are religious arrangements that were once agreed upon by both parties, if they are not followed there are no consequences.
Factors that the Family Court will consider
Under the Family Law Act 1975, in determining the best interests of the child, the Family Court can have regard to things such as:
‘the maturity, sex, lifestyle and background (including lifestyle, culture and tradition) of the child and of either of the child’s parents, any other characteristics of the child that the Court considers relevant’.
In considering religion, the Court is not to consider which religion gives the best ‘benefits’ to the child and often the Court will be reluctant to make orders that a child participate in a specific religion against another one. The Court also must not interfere with the religion that the parents of the child choose to practice. The Court cannot have any bias towards any particular religion when making any parenting arrangements. This aligns with the right to religious freedom enshrined within the Constitution.
Hence, Courts must instead make their decision by viewing religions as a ‘lifestyle’ and seeing how they are to affect a child’s life. One case determined that Courts are able to examine the ‘tenets and practices’ of particular religions and to see how these align with the best interests of the child. Hence, the religious practices that are deemed to be the best fit with the child’s existing life will likely be chosen.
Other considerations the Court will have regard to include:
The religion of other family members, including siblings
The Court will also place importance on the ability of the child to maintain a strong relationship with other siblings and close family members after the divorce. If other siblings have all been brought up with a certain religion, it is more likely that the Court will rule similarly.
The wider community
The Court must also place weight on the importance of broader social interactions of the child and the family in the wider community. Hence, the Court will not likely make an order against a specific religion if the child is already involved in certain religious communal practices already.
In some cases, the Court may find that the religion practiced by the primary carer of the child may be the religious upbringing that is in the best interests of the child.
In some cases it also may be found that only one parent should have sole responsibility for the religious upbringing of the child. This may be the case if only one parent is religious and the other parent has no objections to their child being raised in that manner.
If you need any assistance regarding any parenting disputes please feel free to reach us via the contact form.
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