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How to Handle Child Custody and Co-Parenting for Parents of Different Faiths.


The religious upbringing of a child is very important for parents of faith. In Michigan, when parents share joint legal custody, they must jointly make major decisions regarding their child’s upbringing, welfare, and education.  Most religious parents would feel that decisions regarding faith are major decisions that must be made jointly, but does the court hold the same viewpoint? 

Michigan law holds that a parent is allowed to make the day-to-day decisions for their children while the children are in their custody.  Some parents will argue that bringing their children to their church, synagogue, mosque, or temple will be a day-to-day decision and should not require the other parent’s permission.  But what about more significant steps within the faith developments?  Circumcision, baptism, first communion are all events that create a greater impact on child.  Do those decisions require joint decision making?

Of course, parents likely have different opinions about what is a day-to-day decision or what is considered a major decision requiring joint decision making.  For this reason, if your child’s religious upbringing is important to you, we suggest that you meet with an attorney to ensure that your religious preferences are taken into consideration during negotiations, trial, and the drafting of your court order.

Even when parents have a well drafted order, they may encounter potential problems when they exercise different faiths.  A study conducted by the Pew Research Center found that about 39% of marriages in the United States are interfaith marriages and according to a study published in the Journal of Divorce & Remarriage, around 20-25% of couples in the United States have different religious affiliations or beliefs.

Our team of attorneys have compiled some co-parenting time tips for parents with different faiths that will allow parents to navigate the co-parenting process successfully in these situations:

  1. Respect Each Other’s Beliefs: We understand that this is difficult and may feel unacceptable to many religious parents.  But keep in mind the reality of your situation: you and the co-parent have always had an interfaith relationship or since your separation this has changed, and this is the reality of your child’s future. If you disrespect your co-parent’s faith, the terms of the Child Custody Act provide that the judge may favor the other parent on some factors due to your lack of respect and co-parenting.
  2. Focus on Shared Values: While you may have different religious practices, there are likely shared values that both faiths and parents can agree upon. For example, all faiths highly value similar morals, such as honesty, caring for the poor, kindness, and compassion. Prioritize those values and emphasize these universal values that can transcend religious differences and provide a strong foundation for your child’s character development.
  3. Be Flexible: Co-parenting with different faiths may require flexibility and compromise. Be willing to accommodate each other’s religious practices, rituals, and celebrations when it comes to parenting decisions. Find a balance that respects both parents’ beliefs while ensuring the well-being and comfort of your child.
  4. Have Frequent Discussions with Your Child: Educate your child about your religious values, the basics of your faith, and be open to accept questions about how it is different than the other parent’s faith. Do not denigrate the other parent’s faith.
  5. Obtain a Specific Court Order: If the child was raised in the traditions of a certain faith, but the other parent left the faith after separation, you may benefit from a court order that outlines which religious practices will continue. A few examples that you should consider: parenting time during certain religious holidays, such as Christmas, Ramadan, Hanukkah, Diwali, and Wesak.  Likewise, you may want to proactively agree to major events such as baptism, Bar/Bat Mitzvah, Upanayana, etc.  Such celebrations will really be overshadowed if they are preceded by litigation and could have been included during the initial negotiations for a child custody order.
  6. Be Creative:  If religious upbringing is important to you but not the co-parent, you may consider a non-traditional parenting time order that allows for religious services attendance during the other parent’s time in exchange for forfeiting other times.
  7. Invite Your Co-Parent: Invite your co-parent to major religious milestones and celebrations if your faith allows non-believers to attend. If the co-parent is not allowed to attend, take a moment to explain the reasoning why you do not invite your co-parent, and do your very best to take photos before or during the event and share those right away with the co-parent.

Co-parenting with different faiths requires ongoing communication, empathy, and understanding and unfortunately sometimes requires additional litigation to outline certain religious steps. If you and your co-parent cannot agree on your child’s religious participation, please contact our experienced family law attorneys for a free consultation at 616-285-0808.