Child Disputes and Religion

Year Published: 2012

When a marriage or relationship breaks down there are often a number of areas of disagreement between parents over the ways to care for the children. The most common of these relate to where the children should live and how much time they should spend with the other parent. Other issues, which can cause just as much consternation might be the choice of school, extended family access and holidays. An area where there can be real cultural differences though, is that of religion.

Some religions set their own rules – such as the child always taking the religion of the mother with orthodox Jews and the father for Muslims.

Under English Law, the right to make these types of decisions is governed by whether or not both of the parents have Parental Responsibility – either through marriage, registration on the birth certificate as father, or by agreement. The mother automatically has Parental Responsibility. If the father does not, then he can apply to court to be awarded Parental Responsibility or even apply to court for an order preventing the mother from making decisions on her own.

A very recent case in the High Court, Re N (A Child – Religion – Jehovah’s Witness) [2011] EWHC B26 (Fam) has highlighted the issue of religion on separation. The case itself concerned the beliefs of a Jehovah’s Witness, the mother. The father attended an Anglican church.

Although the parents were of different religions when they married, this was not an issue until divorce when there was a dispute about where the child should live. The case covered a number of issues including religion, consent to medical treatment, joint residences, holidays and education. The father’s position was considered and treated as equal to the mother’s in regard to the child, but the main priority was given to the child’s welfare by the Court.

There were numerous comments and decisions in the judgment in the case that are of relevance, however in summary, the Judge held that where parents follow different religions and those religions are both socially acceptable, the child should have the opportunity to learn about and experience both religions.

Henceforth, there was no reason why the child should not continue to attend both the Kingdom Hall with his mother and the Anglican Church, including Sunday school, with his father and grandparents.

It is imperative that you consider all issues concerning the upbringing of children in the future if you ever decide to separate or divorce. Court proceedings can be very expensive and to avoid this and the unpleasantness that this can cause, you should seek expert legal advice at the earliest stage if you are separating, from an experienced family lawyer.

Mediation is also a very positive method for resolving disputes and most mediators will work in conjunction with solicitors to achieve a good result for both parties and of course the child.

For more information please contact a member of our Family team on 01625 442100.

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