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North Dakota high court rules on child custody religious issue

Divorced parents may disagree on a number of issues regarding how their children are raised once the family is no longer living together. One of the thorniest issues can be religion. Obviously, this can be a problem when the parents practice different faiths or when one of them belongs to no organized religion. However, even when the parents are of the same faith, they may differ on how strictly the religion should be practiced and what kind of religious training the children should receive.

The latter situation is a case for a North Dakota couple whose case made it all the way to the North Dakota Supreme Court. As part of their child custody agreement, the couple agreed that the children would attend church as well as classes in the Catholic faith.

The father reportedly objected to that custody agreement clause at the time even though he did not object to the children being raised in the Catholic faith. The court ruled late last month that the couple's children do not have to attend Mass while they are in their father's custody.

States and courts handle disputes over the religious upbringing of children of divorce in different ways. In some states, both parents are allowed to expose their children to whatever religion (or no religion at all) the parent chooses as long as the children are not found to be in danger. However, in other states, the parent with primary custody is given the right to determine the religious upbringing of the children.

Obviously, as with many cases where parents don't see eye-to-eye on something, it is the children who are caught in the middle and often left confused and torn. If a child's religious upbringing is important to one or both of the divorcing parents, it is essential to specify the details of that upbringing in the custody agreement. North Dakota family law attorneys can help work out these clauses in the child custody agreement. This will help minimize disputes and trauma later on for everyone involved -- most importantly for the children.

Source: Minot Daily News, "Religious practice and child custody" Andrea Johnson, May. 29, 2014

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Commandments of Family Law

  1. The only truth your children need to know is that you both love them unconditionally, and that this isn't their fault.
  2. Take the high road — everyone wins when you do what's best for your kids.
  3. Negotiate but don't capitulate — if you are being pushed toward something detrimental for your children, stand your ground.
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