Can a Family Court Dictate the Religion in Which Children of Divorce Participate?

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“My ex is threatening to take me to court if I don’t agree to putting my son, 14, in a seminary/religious class. My son attends a public school that allows certain students release time during school hours to attend seminary classes. My son has stated to me and his counselor that he does not want to attend seminary classes. He failed 2 classes last semester, and is taking a credit recovery class which my ex wants him to drop to take seminary instead. We have joint custody so the school will not allow my son to drop classes or change his schedule without consent from both parents, hence the threat of court proceedings from my ex.

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Can a family court dictate the religion that children of a divorce are raised or participate in? Can they dictate that a child attend religious classes? Does this fall under separation of church and state?”

Much of this will be controlled by the wording of your divorce orders. If religious studies are addressed in your court orders, then the court would not be getting involved in your religious choices, they would only be enforcing orders. If, on the other hand, there is no mention of religious classes in your orders, that is a grayer area. Your ex can certainly file a request for the court to get involved, and in most states it would then be referred out to mediation to try to get you and your ex to agree to a plan. The reality is that in order to raise the issue as a constitutional issue, you will still have to end up in court, and that will be costly, time-consuming, and frustrating (and not good for your son). your best bet is to try to come to some sort of agreement; if you can’t do that between you and your ex, you may want to set up long-distance mediation via conference call. And it might not be a bad idea to have your son’s teacher(s) involved on the call, if they truly feel that your son is hanging by a thread and that adding additional studies would be a bad thing at this time. You may want to consider seeking a compromise with your ex, wherein you agree to look at the matter once your son’s grades are raised, but “wouldn’t he agree that *right now* the most important thing is getting your son to a place where he isn’t in danger of failing?”

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Author: House Attorney

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